Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Guy Named John

John was born and raised in Michigan, part of a boating family. From his youth, he was on the water, sailing and racing, involved in all things maritime. So it comes as no surprise that John became a captain—after a stint in the Marines and a trip to Vietnam—on both tugs and other sorts of sea-going vessels. He was on the water for forty years and in all parts of the world.

After spending the past quarter century boating in Alaska, John retired and went to Latin America. He visited Panama, Costa Rica, and Puerto Natales, Chile, the port city where I've been chilling for the past two weeks. After three months in each of these places, he inexplicably returned to work in Alaska. A few years later, he quit work for good, packed his bag, and headed Puerto Natales, Chile, where he's been living for the past two years.

John is a real character. I've never met anyone like him. He punctuates every couple words with the Lord's name, but I don't think he's much of a church-goer. I think it must come from the water. You know what they say about sailors. He talks about how he needs to spend less money, being retired and all. Too much "horin' and drinkin'."

He introduced me to a restaurant here in town where you can get the lunch special for 1,500 pesos, or about $3.30. It  includes soup, rolls, and a main course like rice and vicuno (vicuña is a camelid, like the guanaco, whereas vicuno is a just a cut of beef).

John likes to take full advantage of the "Tramp Trail," which is to say he likes to hang out at local joints and he makes friends with all the locals—including the police, which may be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the particular circumstance.

Just a few days ago, he left Puerto Natales for Boquete, Panama, to get a new start and hopefully cut down on some of the drinkin' and horin'. Time will tell, but I think he's already making some questionable connections.

John's Español gets him by, but he's not trying to sound like a native. He was happy being known around here as "alaskano." Now that he's gone, we who knew him like to say some of the things he used to say using the same intonation and roughness he used when rattling off his few common expressions. ¿Comprende? When walking down the street, he commonly greeted people he knew with his American-accented "Hola, amigo." People driving by would honk and shout, "Hey, John!"

It's a bit lonely around here without John, but he left a lot of great people behind. At Erratic Rock, you definitely feel at home, like you're part of a family. Tomorrow, I'll be setting off for Ushuaia and moving one step closer to Boquete. Hopefully I'll get another chance to hang with the alaskano a few months down the road.

Monday, April 21, 2008

My New Travel Route Map

Check out the new map of my travel route by clicking on the link on the right called "Jay's Travel Route."

I'm in National Geographic!!!

Well, not quite. Pick up the May/June 2008 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine to see my picture of Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro being struck by lightning. This is the first time I've been published, so I'm pretty happy. I'm getting paid enough to cover about a week's worth of travel—not quite the cover of National Geographic, but maybe someday!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Puerto Natales

After arriving in Puerto Natales on the Navimag ship, a few of us grabbed a taxi to a hostel named Erratic Rock. I had e-mailed them before the cruise but hadn't heard back before departing, so I didn't know if I actually had a room or not. As it turns out, they were booked. A lot of travelers—including many from the ship—had to find other places. I and the two guys I was with ended up going to a related hostel just a couple blocks away called  Erratic Rock .5. There is also an Erratic Rock 2, which is a little more upscale, and an Erratic Rock in Punta Arenas.

Erratic Rock was hopping and it was packed full of backpackers to hear the daily afternoon presentation on the main local attraction here, the National Park Torres del Paine. Most of those in attendance left the presentation when it was finished and went directly to the supermarket to buy food for the next five days during which they would be hiking "The W," which is a popular hike in the park, so named because of the shape of the trail when viewed on a map. Many of them also rented gear they were lacking.

Erratic Rock is a great place to hang out. There's a sofa in the entry area where there's commonly a movie playing (out of a selection of maybe a few hundred VHS tapes), people on laptops, and others just relaxing next to the heater.

Later in the evening, I retired to my room. When I entered the house—a common use of someone's house is to turn it into a hostel or hotel, typically called a hospedaje in these here parts—it was completely dark inside. I groped my way upstairs and into the bedroom, trying not to wake my room mate, John, of Alaska. When I woke up in the morning, the house was absolutely freezing. I lit the tankless water heater in the kitchen with a nearby match and hopped in the shower. Apparently I didn't know the trick to getting the water to come out hot, so it was only warm. You've got to fiddle with the knobs just so.

Not wanting to live in a dark and freezing hostel, I moved to another place that day, which also costs less. I've been here for two nights and will stay one more, moving to Erratic Rock in a private room tomorrow, Monday.

Puerto Natales is a town of less than 20,000 consisting largely of hostels, hotels, and hospedajes. It's a place to stay en route to Torres del Paine, Ushuaia, Punta Arenas, and Tierra del Fuego. There are places to stay on every block. You've also got your basic infrastructure, such as small restaurants, markets and various and sundry stores.

This morning after I woke up and took a nice, hot shower, I lumbered into the restaurant—this hospedaje has a small restaurant on the front of it—to eat the breakfast that's included in the per-night price of 5,000 pesos. That's around $12. As I waited for the bread to be brought out, I heard the hushed sound of the TV in the kitchen:

Santo, santo, santo,
Santo, nuestro Señor.
Santo, santo, santo,
Santo, nuestro Dios.

The man of the house was watching a Sunday morning service on his TV. He soon brought out three small, warm, rolls. This somewhat luxurious, as most bread is cold and not infrequently stale. On the bread, I spread either butter—another nicety—or the ubiquitous dulce de leche. After yesterday's breakfast, he thoughtfully asked me if I wanted cold milk. Not being a coffee or tea drinker, I like—in this order—juice, cold milk, or cold water with my breakfast.

The weather here is very inconsistent. Within a day, it regularly changes between rain, wind, cloudy, and clear, with combinations being the usual. Last night, it was very rainy, windy, and cold. This morning, it was cold, windy, and semi-clear. I've been warned that the weather cannot be forecast here, so you really just need to make a plan and stick to it, even if that means getting wet while out in the park.

Having time on my side, I hope I can avoid getting stuck out in some miserable conditions. If the day looks nasty, I'll just wait for tomorrow. At least that's the plan. So far it seems to be working, as I have been able to see some of the town without suffering too much.

I may stay here as much as a couple weeks, as I bide my time waiting for a package in the mail. I have been working with MetLife, my home insurance company and the company with which I have insured my camera gear, to get reimbursed for my stolen property. MetLife has come through with flying colors. They've already cut a check for the theft. I can't recommend them highly enough. I've reordered what got stolen and will hopefully have it shipped to Punta Arenas. Meantime, I'll do some writing, reading, relaxing, and photography in Puerto Natales and the surrounding areas. I hope to receive the package sometime around May 7th. We shall see.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

On the Agua, Day IV

Docking at Puerto Natales We all woke up a bit later today. I got up around 8:30, headed down for a late breakfast, then grabbed my camera gear and went up on deck. Today, we were navigating through some tight spots and witnessing some gorgeous landscapes, as we drew within a couple hours of Puerto Natales.

Pretty much the entire roster of passengers was up on deck enjoying the last day's route and capturing the photons on both silicon and silver halide. We were up there for some time, and I figured there wouldn't be a daily briefing today because 9:30 had come and gone. We did end up having a briefing, albeit a bit later than usual. The crew probably just knows that there's a lot of interest outside at this time and plans for a late briefing on this last day at sea.

After the briefing, I went back to my cabin and packed up all my stuff in preparation for disembarking before too long. We had been told that there might not be lunch on the last day, depending on what time we arrived in Puerto Natales. When the trip starts, they can't say precisely at what hour we'll arrive at the destination, because it is weather dependent, to a degree, and can vary by a few hours. We did, however, end up having a final lunch. What a great way to end the trip.

Again, most of the passengers were up on deck to watch the process of pulling into port and docking. All kinds of things are involved, from small boats to tow the ropes Puerto Natalesto shore, to anchors, to the captain, driving the ship closer to the dock from a control station on the outside of the bridge, from where he can get a good view of the dock and the relative position of the ship to its surroundings.

Even after we were secured to the dock, we had to wait a while to disembark, as the crew had to offload some of the cargo first, so as to clear a path for the Letting the anchor out-take a look at the right chainpassengers to take through the cargo hold to get to the ramp at the rear of the ship, and thus onto dry land.

In summary, this was a great trip. I met loads of nice and interesting people from around the world, I saw some scenery I wouldn't otherwise have seen, I had loads of good meals, and I got a few days to relax in a comfortable environment—except for the night in unprotected waters. Overall, a great voyage!


¡Ciao, Navimag!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

On the Agua, Day III

Cotopaxi By 8:00 in the morning, we had headed back inland and things had calmed down again—what a relief. Breakfast was the same as yesterday—which is to say, just fine.

I took a refreshing nap later in the morning (after the usual briefing) and then got up, put my shell (i.e., windbreaker) on over the top of my fleece, and went outside to take pictures of Cotopaxi, a Greek ship whose captain first sold off its cargo of sugar in Argentina, then grounded and tried to sink his ship here to collect the insurance money. Unfortunately, when he brought the authorities back to the scene of the crime, the found his ship still sitting there, but with no sugar on board. He was thrown in jail.

The weather outside was downright tough, between the crisp temperatures, the light rain, and the blowing wind. I have to admit that it made me think ahead about a month, or so. Actually, with these conditions, maybe it won't be quite a month! The warmer latitudes are sounding mighty good right about now!

Just passed through the most narrow segment of the trip, eighty-something meters Another good lunch, a relaxing afternoon of reading and studying a little Spanish, a good dinner, and the movie Happy Feet made for another relaxing and enjoyable day. I must admit that at least part of the reason this particular post is so short and detail-starved is that I'm finishing it a couple days after the fact. The specifics are all blurring together.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

On the Agua, Day II

Doug and Lydia—newlyweds who are spending almost the entire first year of their marriage traveling through Latin America—are my roomies. They're really nice. Easygoing, too. He's an Aussie and she's a Canook. Since there are two bunk beds in this cabin, but only three of us, we have a free bunk and an extra locker—plenty of space for all our junk.

Doug got up around quarter to eight this morning, took a quick shower, and Lydia followed. After they headed down to breakfast, I followed suit, arriving to a line-free buffet. Just my style. I hate standing in line when I could just relax and walk right up to the business end of the whatever-it-may-be after everyone else is done with the whatever-it-is.

Puerto Edén For breakfast, we had scrambled eggs, a slice of cheese, a slice of ham, cold cereal, yogurt, juice, bread with butter and jam, a banana, and coffee for those who are so inclined. It was a good and filling way to start the day.

Each day, we're given a morning briefing at 9:30, just to give us some details about where we're headed and what we might see that day. Later in the morning, we saw dolphins and seals jumping out of the water. It was pretty neat, and I got a few mediocre photos. It's cloudy today with a bit of mist in the air on occasion, but it's not as cold as last night, when it was clear.

The morning briefing Just before lunch, Andrea, the cruise director—my term for her—gave a little schpeel about Patagonia and the native people of that area—first in Spanish, then English, the routine for all communication on the trip.

For lunch, we were fed chicken, rice, bread, juice, fruit, and soup—another excellent meal. I sat with Don and Julie and met Martin, a native French speaker, originally from Quebec, but living in Yukon Territory. He works out in the boonies—does that go without saying?—sampling soil and searching for minerals and other desirables for mining companies. When you first see him, you definitely think "mountain man." It was very interesting learning about what he does in the field of geology. Not your typical office job.

In the afternoon, they showed a documentary about some scientists studying glaciers in Patagonia. The scientists flew over the land in helicopters and the film contained some amazing shots of the beautiful and rugged landscape.

About 5:00 P.M., I took my first seasickness pill in anticipation of heading out of the protected channels into the open sea. Walking and even standing on board was difficult, but I think we came through the rough part of the trip without anyone falling and breaking anything. I grabbed my tripod and stumbled to the bridge to take some long exposures out the front windows.

Dinner was at 7:30 and it was an excellent meal of spaghetti, salad, bread, fruit, and juice. Unfortunately, after I was about 10% done with the meal, I was pretty sure I was about to add some more colors to my meal. I excused myself from the table and went outside to get some fresh air—that and find a better place to barf than at the dinner table.

After just a minute or two, I began to feel better. I then proceeded up to my room to take my second pill and lie down—we had been instructed that lying on your side—think fetal position—helps with seasickness as your inner ear functions better in this orientation. I did begin to feel better after the fresh air and lying down. Long story short, I never left my bed until the next morning. It did, however, take me hours to go to sleep.

During the night, things got pretty dicey. I hadn't imagined that a ship could be tossed around so much. At about 3:00 in the morning, the ship took a particularly violent shove from the fluid dynamics beneath. It seemed like the entire front half of the ship came clear out of the water before slamming down into the next wave. You could hear things crashing all over the ship—including my books and other items on the shelf between the beds.

I slept a restless sleep, but came through the night in one piece and with all my stomach contents in tact.

Monday, April 14, 2008

On the Agua, Day I

Puerto Montt Not long after having my camera bag stolen a few weeks ago, I decided that I would abandon my idea of traveling throughout Patagonia with my own car. Between the expense and potential complexity of buying a car and now that I don't have a driver's license anymore, I decided to go the traditional route of taking buses and whatever other means I had at my disposal.

A few other travelers in Santiago told me about a ship that goes from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales, and I thought that sounded like a lot of fun. So, I e-mailed the ship company—Navimag—reserved myself a spot, and gave them my VISA information.

The beauty of flexibility—I just saw a beautiful sunset with Puerto Montt in the foreground, and a couple stunning volcanoes of the Andes Mountains topping off the scene, with seagulls soaring on the winds in the middle of it all. I'm sitting on my bunk bed writing this post as I steam toward the depths of Patagonia on a Navimag ferry.

Volcán Osorno This morning, I got up at a lazy 9:00 A.M., showered, and had breakfast at the hotel in Puerto Montt. They served a glass of juice, coffee—for those who drink it—two slices of toast, one slice of cheese, one slice of ham, butter, and a couple types of spread for the toast. The e-mail I had received from Navimag said I needed to check in at 10:00 A.M., so that's what I did. I wish it had told me boarding time and departure time, but I went with what I had.

There were several other people checking in at the same time, all with backpacks, apparently on the same kind of trip through Latin America as I am. After checking in and receiving my ticket, I walked about a hundred meters to a different building where I could check in my backpack. That left me with just my shoulder bag so I could walk around town for a couple hours until reporting back to get on the ship at around 2:30.

While checking in my pack, I met Julie and Don from McMinnville, Oregon. They're a retired couple traveling for a few months through South America. They're somewhere between the typical older couple traveling in luxury and the younger traveler backpacking and roughing it. We left the baggage check in area together and began walking along the street to see some sights, but with my photo-snapping, we didn't stay together long.

I peeled off the main street that runs along the waterfront and took a side street that leads into a residential area. I walked uphill along this street for a block or two, then The bridge hung a left along an even steeper hill that led up to a ridge line. To get to the ridge, I walked up a set of stairs at the end of the steep street. The stairs let to another street that ran along the ridge. From there, I had an extraordinary view over Puerto Montt, the harbor, and the Andes in the background.

After heading back down, I found a peluqueria (barber shop/beauty salon) and went in to get a shave, as my whiskers had grown longer than I wanted to deal with, figuring they would just clog up my razor. I think the lady dealt more with women than men. After finally communicating to her that I wanted a shave, she went into the back and fiddled around for a few minutes. Beginning to worry, I asked her if she had shaving cream. She showed me her can of shaving cream which was clogged, then went back to fiddling, as though concocting her own shaving potion. Under my breath, I spoke the words to myself, "I'm scared," which I was. She said she was going to put hot water on my face, which she did with blobs of cotton. I guess she somehow figured hot water would be a good lubricant with which to slide the new razor blade across the skin on my face. Long story short, she was pretty careful and I got a halfway decent shave, but the skin on my face is a little irritated right now. It could've turned out much worse.

From there, I headed toward the supermarket to pick up some snack food for the voyage. On the way, I ran into three other travelers I had seen when checking in earlier. After getting my junk food, I met them for lunch. We each had a big bowl of soup and a bit of bread—a decent meal for around $3.

After checking back at the baggage check-in room at the port at around 2:30, we received a little speech about safety on the ship. Shortly thereafter, we all shuffled out to the ship. We stood on a large steel platform which rose to the next level of the ship—kind of like the aircraft elevators on aircraft carriers.

Eating dinner Shortly after settling into our rooms, we all gathered in the cafeteria to watch a safety video, first in Spanish, then English. Then the "cruise coordinator," Andrea, discussed the route we'd be taking and told us what we could expect to see along the way. She also told us when meals would be served. Breakfast will be from 8:00 to 9:00, lunch from 12:30 to 1:30, and dinner from 7:30 to 8:30.

The price I paid was $380, for a room with four beds and a private bathroom, and all meals—and, of course, moving me from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales. This kind of room is a relatively small premium over rooms without a private bathroom.

After being dismissed from this meeting, I scrambled back to my room, grabbed my camera and a few lenses, and headed out onto the deck to get the light of the setting sun on the city and the mountains. Unfortunately, the ship departed a little bit late, so the sun didn't last long after we were let out of the safety briefing. Most of the seventy passengers were out on the multiple decks taking photos and enjoying the scenery. After about an hour-and-a-half out in the freezing winds, my hands were numb, but I had captured some amazing sights.

Now my hands are thawed and I'm typing at full speed. To close out this portion of this post, I will simply announce that it is 7:30 and I'm going to go eat!



Dinner consisted of salmon, mashed potatoes, juice, soup, a dinner roll, and fresh fruit (pear/peach), It was a surprisingly good meal, as I had read not to expect too much from the meals on this trip.

A while after dinner, they projected a movie onto a large screen located in the cafeteria/lounge area—Motorcycle Diaries—about Ernesto "Che" Guevera's road trip through South America. For a Commie, he seemed like a pretty nice guy.

It got very cold and windy outside after dinner, but the ship was quite cozy inside, and each room has a small heater for fine tuning your comfort. I'm a bit surprised how much the entire ship constantly vibrates. I guess it's not a cruise ship! I paid bottom dollar, so I shouldn't expect too much. Having said that, the bed was pretty comfortable and I slept well. One of my roommates did wake up at three in the morning when the ship began rocking and rolling a bit. She got up to take a seasickness pill. Overall, a good night.

Signing off for now. Stay tuned for the rest of the three-day tour.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

End of the Pavement, Beginning of the Water

On the way from Temuco to Puerto Montt The bus ride from Santiago to Temuco was around eight hours and cost $20, and the trip from Temuco to Puerto Montt was around six hours and cost $12. Along that route, I saw lots of cows, some sheep, and some clear-cut with some lumber yards nearby. I've seen lots of ads for Husky and Stihl chainsaws, along with a few actual shops selling the chainsaws, so apparently, logging is a big industry in these here parts.

Puerto Montt, Chile I arrived here in Puerto Montt around 5:00 P.M., and as the bus pulled into the city, I though to myself that I should've just hightailed it straight here from Santiago. If you've got plenty of time, hit some spots in between. I'm on a deadline, however. My ship sails tomorrow, so my time is limited. I wish I'd spent yesterday here.

With limited light left after the bus arrived, I just threw on my pack and my shoulder bag and began walking around near the bus station to get a few shots of the city, not The boardwalk along Reloncaví Sound knowing if I'd have any time in the morning to take some snaps. To get some of the shots I wanted, I really needed my long lens, but it was buried deep inside my backpack, so I called it quits for the time being.

At that point, I began walking around looking for a place to stay. Within a stone's throw of the bus terminal, I found three hotels, all between 12,000 and 15,000 pesos per room. Only one had WiFi—Hotel Miramar—so that sealed the deal. Although 15,000 pesos is more than I like to Downtown Puerto Montt with Volcán Calbuco pay, I didn't have to take a taxi, so it's probably a reasonable trade off.

After dropping my stuff off in my room and digging my long lens out of my backpack, I headed back out to shoot some more while there was still a bit of light. I chatted for a few minutes with three guys hanging out by the water. They told me a bit about some of the volcanoes in the area and seemed to think I'd be seeing some beautiful scenery on my trip through Patagonia. I'm sure they were right. One of them was very Puerto Montt, Chile difficult to understand. He may have been drunk, but all of them seemed to know the local native language, so some of that may have been mixed in.

There was a skate park nearby, so I shot that for a few minutes. What a great setting for a skate park! Right on the water, with the Andes in the distance.

I'm far enough South now that it's getting chilly. The people hear are bundled up a bit—except for the skaters, who were wearing jeans and t-shirts. My hands were definitely feeling the chill. I should probably pick up a pair of gloves.

Puerto Montt, Chile Having eaten only a small breakfast—served by my kind host back in Temuco—I was pretty hungry by now. I employed the same tactic I had used to find the hotel—I wandered around. As luck would have it, there was a little restaurant right next door to the hotel. I ordered Bistec a lo Pobre—vacuna meat, a couple eggs sunny side up, and a huge pile of fries. All that for under five bucks. A couple exorbitantly-priced Cokes brought the total to eight bucks. These Cokes were in glass bottles and so were pretty small. In typical fashion, I ate the whole pile of fries first, then moved on to the eggs, and finally the vacuna meat. It was a truly excellent meal.

Guys hanging out near the water in Puerto Montt, Chile Skateboard spectator

Skateboarder in Puerto Montt, Chile Graffiti in Puerto Montt, Chile

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Gear List

For anyone who's interested in my gear list, here it is. So far, I'm pretty happy with what I brought.

Camera gear

  • Nikon D3
  • Charger (for 1 battery)
  • Outlet adapter
  • Extra D3 battery
  • Nikon 14-24
  • Nikon 24-70
  • Nikon 70-200
  • Nikon 10.5
  • Nikon D40x
  • Zeiss 25mm f/2.8
  • Nikon SB-800
  • 10 NiMH batteries
  • AA Charger
  • Reflector
  • Softbox
  • SC-29 flash cable
  • Tripod + ArcaSwiss
  • Quick release plate, screw, Allen wrench
  • Cable release
  • Filters (polarizing, ND, grad ND)
  • Lens brush
  • Lens cloth
  • Sensor fluid/wipes
  • Blower bulb
  • Hyperfocal distance charts for 14-24 and 24-70
  • Gray card


  • Sony Vaio laptop
  • Carrying case
  • Power cord
  • DVDs
  • Mouse/USB receiver
  • Ethernet cable
  • USB hard drive
  • Digital audio recorder/mic/case


  • Fleece
  • Wind breaker
  • Long underwear
  • 2 pairs underwear
  • 2 pairs footies
  • cut off shirt (P)
  • short sleeve t-shirt (P)
  • long sleeve t-shirt (P)
  • shorts
  • pants (zip)
  • Sandals
  • Tennis shoes
  • Salsa shoes
  • Sun glasses


  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Q-tips
  • Toilet paper
  • Floss
  • Knife
  • Fingernail clippers
  • Fingernail scissors
  • Hair brush
  • Shampoo
  • Soap
  • Travel towel
  • Travel pillow
  • Deet
  • Sunscreen
  • Duct tape
  • Books
  • Maps
  • First Aid Kit
  • Handi Wipes
  • Money pouch
  • Passport
  • Extra passport photos
  • Passport photocopy
  • Couple carabineers to clip bag to something
  • Lip Ice
  • IPod/Cable
  • 2 USB cables (long/short)
  • Headphones
  • Travel clock/alarm
  • Ear plugs
  • Eye shield
  • USB battery
  • Driver’s License
  • Asthma medicine (Advair & albuterol)
  • Diarrhea medicine
  • Malaria pills
  • Cramping pills (prescription)
  • Hats—rain, fleece
  • Umbrella
  • Dry bag
  • Permethrin clothing treatment (3X)
  • Ziploc bags
  • Wrist brace
  • pacsafe 55 bag protector
  • Dana Bomb Pack (main backpack)
  • LowePro SlingShot 200 AW (photo backpack)

Back Home

Testing out my new tripod head I woke up this morning to a cold and rainy day. For a second, I thought I was back in Tacoma. I decided to hang out here for one more night. No reason to take an extra trip into the hills just for clouds and rain.

After chilling out in my room—literally, no heat in my room—for the morning, I went out for lunch. Temuco has around a quarter-million inhabitants. It's pretty modern, but has the usual rundown parts like most Latin American cities. It's got all the stores of any big city, and I also ran across a decent mall. Then there are also the typical street vendors selling everything from home-cooked food to umbrellas, clothing, fruit, and magazines.

The hole-in-the-wall restaurant I found for lunch was perfect. It served chicken—grilled right in front of you—fries, and pastries. The grill is the typical type found in Latin America. You've got a big concrete slab that comes up to about waist height with an iron structure about a foot above it—made of angle iron in this case—used for grilling the food. There's some space off to the side where wood is burned and coals created. After you have coals, you shovel them over underneath the iron grill. It is in this manner that food is barbequed in Latin America. Very nice. A ¼ chicken, fries, a bottle of pop, and a pastry cost me about $3.70. Rock on.

I'm staying in a little "hotel" that you would never ever find on your own. The taxi driver—who thought that twenty-thousand pesos was cheap—brought me straight here when I told him that I was thinking more along the lines of ten. It's called La Casa de Toya, and appears to be the abode of a local family, but with three extra rooms and a good-sized full bathroom upstairs. Each room has multiple beds and is quite spacious. Additionally, there is WiFi which works well. The hosts are very nice. The address is Bello N° 474, the fax number is (45) 329163, and the phone number is (45) 724708. Recommended—at least if the weather's not too cold.

On a separate note, while I'm thinking of it, when I was back in Buenos Aires, I went into a Burger King for breakfast the morning I got cash from my newly-replaced VISA card. As I was waiting for my order, I witnessed the manager come in and proceed to walk around to each employee and kiss them. In the States, this would be grounds for a lawsuit. In Latin America, I would simply call it good management.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Ciao, Santiago

When I went to bed last night, I left the curtain open slightly so that the morning light would act as my alarm clock—I don't currently own one. At about 8:15, I got up, showered, figured out where the closest FedEx office was, gathered a few things together that I wanted to send home, hopped on the subway, and arrived just a few minutes before they opened at 9:00.

About 12,000 photos—probably around 150GB—are headed to Tacoma on a FedEx airplane. They are my only copy of those photos. I hope they make it.

After returning to the hostel, I packed my backpack, had the hostel call a cab, and had a parting chat with Craig from Newport Beach, CA. He was in the real estate financing business before quitting his job to travel in Latin America. He may change states and jobs after completing his travels. He has ideas for a new career and for his travels, but he's largely winging it. He mentioned floating A scupture in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Santiago, Chile down the Amazon with me, which would be great. We'll see. He has to head back to the states first for the Indy 500, however. That date is dictating when he leaves Latin America. He hasn't missed it in about 30 years and has also gotten several friends hooked.

The cab arrived minutes later and whisked me away to the bus terminal. I made it with about ten minutes to spare. We're heading to Temuco, at which we'll arrive some twelve hours later. After arriving in Temuco, I'll hop another bus to Pucón, where I'll spend a couple nights. That's the idea, anyway. I woke up to inclement weather and it's raining right now, so I might head out after just one night. I want to be in Puerto Montt by Sunday evening. I have to be down at the water by 10:00 A.M. Monday morning to board the cargo ship which will sail during the following four days to Puerto Natales.

After I found my seat on the bus, a woman sat next to me—María. She's several years older than I am and is headed to Temuco. This will be the farthest south she's ever gone. As it turned out, I sat in the wrong seat, but the bus isn't full, so I just stayed there, chatting with María.

After a couple hours, we pulled into a bus stop to pick up more passengers. I hopped off to get some food. I ordered a churriso and fries and ended up with two Cokes. I wanted a bottle of Coke, but the meal came with a can, and apparently there's no way to just get the churriso, fries, and a bottle of Coke, so I ended up with both Cokes. I looked out the window of the small restaurant at the bus and saw people shuffling back onboard. Not wanting to be left behind, I Some kids messing around in the park grabbed my two Cokes, headed out and got on the bus. I was planning to drop the two Cokes in my seat, then tell the bus driver that I need to grab my food. He began to pull out and I told him that I'm waiting on some food. Apparently, we're on a critical time schedule, being in Latin America and all, so he just kept pulling out.

I walked back to "my seat" to find that it's been occupied by another passenger, so I sat in my real seat, next to a guy who was sleeping—and taking up half my seat in the process. If he gets up to go the bathroom or adjust his body position, the armrest is coming down.

Before closing this post, let me just give an update on the last couple hostels I've stayed in.

In Buenos Aires, Avenue Hostel was a mixed bag. The people who worked there were nice, but the place left something to be desired. The private restrooms were okay, except for the showers being tiny. I had to shower with the shower curtain open to avoid having it stick to my body. There was no room to move around until I opened the curtain. This worked out okay, since the whole bathroom was tiled and there was a drain in the middle of the floor. Everything got wet, but no big deal. The public restrooms were a disgusting mess. I won't elaborate. The mattresses were terrible. There was also a lot of noise. For A scooter squeezing between the tour bus and a car several of the nights I stayed there, there were loud, obnoxious people in the room next to mine. Also, there is a large central courtyard which spans the height of the entire building—about five floors. All the rooms are around the perimeter of this central area. There are three TVs on the bottom floor in the courtyard. They are on until late into the morning and you can hear them loud and clear in most rooms. If you're going to stay at Avenue Hostel, you need earplugs. Or, if you are traveling just to party in other parts of the world, you might not get home until 3:00 in the morning, in which case things might begin to quiet down just when you are going to bed. WiFi was sketchy. There was a period of several days in the middle of my stay there where it didn't work. The location is excellent.

Artwork on a concrete wall in a park As far as Hostal Forestal in Santiago, the situation was better, but certainly not perfect. WiFi worked perfectly and the beds were fine. There was noise a few nights, but my earplugs did the trick. The staff was great. The downstairs toilet wouldn't flush, for all practical purposes. The water temperature in the shower was nearly impossible to keep consistent. The private room was tiny. Overall, a pretty good experience.

As we head south to parts colder, windier, and remoterer, I await clear skies and churriso and fries. I know there will be challenges ahead, but the last couple days have been slightly annoying. Wish me calm seas.


It's a couple hours later now. The skies are clear and I have made peace with my seat mate. He woke up, lowered the armrest, and sat up. I offered him some cookies. I'm splitting my eyes between Casino Royale on the TV in the bus and watching the beautiful scenery go by, as I listen to my new favorite group, El Cuarteto de Nos, an alternative rock band from Uruguay. Don't bother with the album Cortamambo. Just go straight for Raro. It's excellent.


One last update for the day. It's 9:00 P.M. and I'm sitting in my bed in a small motel in the downtown area of Temuco. A taxi driver met me at the door of the bus and we had a chat. I said I wanted to go to a hostel—someplace cheap. He said "Twenty thousand pesos?" I said "No. Ten thousand." Well, he brought me to this motel. Ten thousand pesos on the nose. That's right around $22. About my speed. Very quiet, a big private room, TV, WiFi, and a nice bathroom. Now that's the ticket.

Tidbits From Santiago

Me and Bev chatting in the morning I've done sort of a random hodgepodge of things here in Santiago.

My first few mornings were spent talking to Bev and fiddling around on my laptop. Bev is a sweet English woman who is here visiting her daughter for a couple weeks. Becca—daughter—just spent a month working on a ranch in Argentina and will continue her voyage around the world, until long after mom has gone home. The three of us went out to dinner a few times and also took the funicular up San Cristobal Mountain and the cable car down the other side. There is also a pretty big park there, but we went up a little late in the day and so didn't have time for that. The view of the city is nice and the ride is fun. Recommended.

Bev and Becca took off yesterday on a few jaunts around Chile, including Easter Island. Since they've left, my meals have gotten significantly cheaper. We went to a few nice places ($15-$25) and now I'm making up for it by buying cheap meals ($3-$5). Bev and Becca both made for wonderful company and I'll miss the good visits.

In the cable car with Bev and Becca, the Brits Today, I went back to the market and actually went in to one of the photography stores and asked about a ball head. She didn't have them—which I pretty much knew by looking in the window—but she made a phone call and found a store that did have what I needed—sort of. What I really need is just an Arca Swiss quick release plate, but I'm pretty sure there are few, if any, stores in all of Latin America that have those. This was the conclusion I drew yesterday, so I just figured I'd get another ball head. The store I went to is called Matrix S.A. If you're a Spanish Santiago, Chile speaker, I'm pretty sure that's a cool name. They've got a lot of nice tripods and heads (they appear to be an official Manfrotto dealer), mostly video stuff, and they have Sekonic posters on the wall, so maybe they sell light meters, too, but I didn't actually see any. They also have some lighting gear—hot lights, umbrellas, and reflectors. Decent store and helpful, friendly people.

The Virgin Mary on top of San Cristobal Mountain I also took a tour of the city on a double-decker bus. This tour is targeted at dumb tourists who are too lazy or rich to see things on their own. I'm not really sure why I did it, but I pretty much felt like I had wasted my money during the whole thing. I did get into a museum at the end for free, though, and saw parts of the city I hadn't yet seen. Not recommended unless you're dumb, lazy, and rich. Do it yourself.

After getting home tonight, I heated up some leftovers from the other day, and grabbed the three-liter bottle of Coke I bought last night. Somehow, even though I had drunk only one glass last night, the bottle was about eighty percent empty. I've been fuming for the past couple hours. And I had to hike all over the place to buy more, since, unlike in Buenos Aires, there aren't that many little kiosks selling this kind of thing, and lots of places shut down early—i.e., Yours truly on top of San Cristobal Mountain by 8:00 or 9:00 P.M. If I find out who drank it—doubtful—I'm going to give 'em hell. I've lost any toleration whatsoever that I might have had before for anyone who steals my stuff.

To make matters worse, I put in a movie a little while ago in the common room, and a couple people just began yakking away with no regard for the fact that I was already sitting here trying to watch this movie. It just went downhill from there with more chatting, so I just turned the movie off.

Plaza de Armas In general, the people here in Santiago are friendly, polite, and helpful. When I was having trouble getting through the turnstile in the subway—I was trying to use a ticket I had already used and the machine was rejecting it—the guy behind me just scanned his pass and offered to let me through on it. At that point, I grabbed my pass out of my pocket and had him go on through. What a generous gesture! I've also asked for help and directions from others and they've always been willing to try and help.

The traffic is also pretty mellow. The cars actually pay attention to the lines—entirely unlike Rio and BA, where the lines are meaningless. If a car squeezes into another Plaza de Armas land where there's a car or cuts someone off, horns start honking and hands rising in anger. I found myself getting annoyed by this today. In Rio and BA, that's just par for the course—drivers aren't bothered by the fluidity of it all. Odd as it sounds, I bet that the blood pressure of drivers in cities like Rio and BA is lower than in Santiago or the States.

Want another tidbit? Today, I had flashbacks to Rio. I saw a guy peeing in the street. At least he was aiming into a corner instead out into open space. Later, I saw a mom pulling the pants back up on her young girl, who had just had a number-one emergency in the street. That was first for me.

Also, there was another breast feeding incident—this time in the subway, or Metro, as they call it here.

All in all, Santiago is a pretty boring city. I won't plan on visiting here again, unless it's just to pass through to visit Valparaiso. At the very least, it would be far down in the list. In contrast, I would go back to both Rio and BA in a heartbeat.