It seems strange to say that I haven’t had time for blogging while traveling, but by golly it feels true. And I’ve met other travelers who would agree with me… solidarity, yea! I guess in some ways my lack of time is a measure of how much more fun I’ve been having – I’m definitely getting the hang of this traveling thing, and the whole experience is pretty amazing. More and more, I find Macklemore’s song “Thrift Shop” on repeat in my head, due to my recurring thoughts of “this is fucking awesome.” Anyway, I’m determined to keep this blog thing alive, so here is Part 1 of my last month+ of travels down through South America.

More pictures (in different albums to minimize location confusion): Peru –Β Colca Canyon and ArequipaΒ and Lake Titicaca; Chile – Santiago and Pucon

Keywords: last of Peru, alpacas, Peruvian parties, into Chile, hiking

I gave up on computers toward my last couple weeks in Peru, so I’ll glance over that time in blog-land as well. After Cusco and Machu Picchu, I traveled to Puno and Lake Titicaca (4200m high, wowzah!), where I stayed the night with a family on the island of Amantani – it has lovely people, loads of agriculture, no internet, no TV, and electricity only from solar panels. In Puno, we got to see the start of the 2 week Candelaria celebration – loads of traditional clothing and dance, as well as lots of drunk Peruvians.

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After Puno, I took a bus southwest to do some hiking in the Colca Canyon – the deepest canyon in the world, apparently. That hike was my first solo “expedition” and I was pretty proud of myself, even though it was only 2 nights. The first night’s camp site was beautiful and solitary… then the sun went down and I became acutely aware of how alone I was. Every little sound sent chills down my spine, and when I heard footsteps I broke into a cold sweat. Terrifying puma-rat-monsters galloped around my imagination, but I managed to talk myself down enough to fall into a half sleep. I awoke yelling and to a horrendous animal noise just outside of my tent. The animal noise was directly followed by the sound of hooves galloping away. At that point I knew that the creature sounds I’d been hearing were from a donkey, and I was able to fall into real sleep, because donkeys aren’t exactly scary. The following morning, I found a hoof print centimeters from the head of my tent and determined that Mr. Donkey had simply been curious about the structure in his grazing area, and that we had probably scared each other with our respective yelling the night before. Learning moment: donkey noises are impressively unpleasant and disheartening.

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I spent a day in Arequipa and decided it was an okay city. But by the time I was on a bus headed toward the Chilean border, I knew it was time to get out of Peru and was stoked for the next leg of my travels.

Arriving in Chile had interesting emotional ramifications. Only after leaving Peru did I gain better understanding of what it means to travel in a developing country. In Chile, I can walk down the street or into a store without being hassled to buy something. I can drink water from the tap(!!!!). Within the first week in Chile, two different taxi drivers made their phones into wifi hotspots to help me find a hostel in a new city. Taxis here have meters (gasp) instead of fares arbitrarily defined by whether or not the taxi driver thinks he can rip you off. Public toilets are free and stocked with toilet paper (well, mostly)!! And the dudes are far less creepy. All in all, what a relief! I think I entered Chile with a lot of pent up frustration at my time in Peru, and when I realized that I would not have the same issues here, I realized the extent of my base level tension while traveling in Peru. Hooray relative experience. I’m certain that part of the discomfort linked to Peru had to do with my novice traveler status, but until I land in a different developing country, I won’t know which discomforts were developing-country related and which were novice-traveler related.

So Chile…. I’m stoked on Chile now (and Argentina, but I’ll rave about that later). I crossed into Chile on February 11, 13 days late, according to my visa. Woops. Fortunately, I only had to jump through a couple of small hoops and pay 13 USD to earn my border passage. Tacna is the southernmost city in Peru, and from there a 12 sole collectivo ride will take you to the border crossing (the bus people give you all the forms you need and ferry you through aforementioned visa overstay hoops) and then to the northernmost Chilean city of Arica. Despite the sticky-hot desert through which we had to drive to cross the border, I found the ride fascinating. All along the way, there were what to my eyes appeared to be fortifications either dug into the sand or built out of cinder blocks. I know tension exists between Chile and Peru, but I wasn’t expecting to find the desert so well-strewn with with fortifications. Then again, they seemed to be mostly on the west side of the road, and I’m no expert in military structures, so perhaps my imagination went a bit off.

I arrived in Arica around 6pm with no bookings of any kind. Based on some advice from my Chile-expert friend Rodrigo, I’d decided to make a bee-line south to Santiago and then Patagonia. So I disembarked the border-crossing collectivo and scanned the bus station for signs of companies with service to Santiago. The office I found was staffed by a wonderful woman who booked me on the next available bus to Santiago, which left the following afternoon (40,000CHP, or about 72 USD) and would take about 28 hours. Then the woman let me use her laptop to search for hostels and took me to her mom’s office to store my things as I went in search of said hostels in the vicinity of the bus station. Because Chile is more developed than Peru, it’s also way more expensive, so I had some sticker shock at my 10,000CHP (or 50 Sole, 18USD) room. I’d been paying no more than 30 Soles for rooms in Peru, but so it goes. I walked to the beach and caught the last of a lovely sunset.

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I dipped my toes in the Pacific just to say I’d done so in the southern hemisphere. Check. Back at the hostel, I was excited to discover X-men Origins (in English!) on TV. It’s the little familiar things that bring the comfort of home. The next morning I walked around Arica until my bus. There wasn’t much to see and it was HOT, so I was quite satisfied to get on my bus to Santiago. A Chilean man sat next to me and I could tell that we could have had a nice chat, if only we spoke the same language. As it was, we managed a slight bit of information exchange before the smiling and nodding signalled the end of our respective comprehensions.

I spent a long time staring out of the window (something I find to be quite enjoyable in Chile and Argentina). The landscape in northern Chile is incredible – HUGE mountains, but because they are in the high desert, they are absolutely barren of green life. Seeing mountains like that was at once familiar and distinctly different to anything I’ve seen before, so I had an easy time whiling away a couple hours watching brown mountains glide slowly by. A 30 hour bus ride is like a time warp. At various points I ate, read Cat’s Cradle, and slept. Then suddenly I was in Santiago, where the bus terminal surprised my expectations by having no wifi anywhere. I ordered a cab, got in, and proceeded to ask the driver to take me somewhere with lots of hostels. Santiago is huge, so my request was not an easy one to fulfill. This cab driver ended up making a wifi hotspot of his phone so I could look for a hostel. Then I ended up getting a message from a German friend I’d made way back in Lima. His hostel had a free bed so I joined him there.

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I knew I would be fine staying there when I walked to the balcony to ask a staff guy to turn on the hot water, and in doing so interrupted him from his sizable water pipe. I got hot water in addition to being thoroughly amused. Santiago has amazing food, tasty beer, friendly people, and seems like a city that would easily lend itself to longer term living. I spent 4 days there, but I could see being happily occupied there for longer. My favorite night was spent with a Swedish traveler and his Chilean friend at a little pub in Barrio Brasil – there were friendly people, interesting drinks, and great Latin dancing, and around 4am the server brought around cups of complementary sober-up soup to everyone. Amazing!

Although Santiago was great, I knew I had to get moving south to meet my Seattle friends Jim and Melissa after they finished their trekking in Torres del Paine. Fortunately, along the way from Santiago to Puerto Montt is this great little town called Pucon. It’s on a lake, and centrally located for mountain access. I traveled there with my German friend, who introduced me to his traveler friends, a couple from Boulder, CO. The 4 of us did 2 day hikes out of Pucon, both of which were beautiful.

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From Pucon, I headed out on my own again, bussing to Puerto Montt to catch my plane to Punta Arenas (one step closer to meeting Seattle friends). The flight was awesome – it left around sunset so I got to watch the sky go through its progression of colors to darkness. Sunset coupled with mountain views from above meant that my attention was happily directed out of my window for much of the 3 hour flight. Oh, and LAN Airlines has great snacks. Two thumbs up for them.

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I arrived in Punta Arenas, true to form, without a hostel reservation. Again, a Chilean cab driver came to my rescue, taking me to an area with lots of hostels and driving me around until we found space in one. The bed that I found was the sketchiest one I’ve stayed in in South America, complete with yellowed sheets that gave me the heebie jeebies. Fortunately, I was only there for a short amount of time and sustained no suspicious bites in the process. The next morning, I caught a 7:30 bus to Puerto Natales, Chile, and connected to a bus to El Calafate, Argentina, where Jim, Melissa, and fantastic scenery were waiting for me…. To be continued. πŸ™‚

6 comments on “Last of Peru and into Chile

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