Chile

Last Days in Chile!

After two weeks exploring various areas of Chile, my time here has finally come to an end. It’s been amazing getting to explore the beautiful city of Santiago, and the even more beautiful park of Patagonia.

My last few days in Patagonia were quite eventful. We hiked through the French Valley and up to the French Glacier, went horseback riding around two different areas of the park, and I celebrated my birthday!

The French Valley hike was gorgeous (that’s where the featured image for this post is from), it had stretches of dead white trees that vaguely resembled the White Tree of Gondor, stretches of beautiful lively greenery, calm lakes that reflected the scenery as natural mirrors, and large glaciers always looming above us in the mountains. It was also not a strenuous hike, which was a nice added bonus.

Horseback riding was a fun change of pace, as normally I’m not a big fan of horses. It was fun to try it out and find out that it’s not so difficult if the horses are well trained (The second time we went, my horse was not well trained. I just had to let it decide where it wanted to go because it wouldn’t listen to me, which was pretty terrifying).

Chile has been an absolutely gorgeous and incredible country to visit. I can’t wait to come back!

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Chile

Parks in Patagonia

After a couple of days in Patagonia, we’ve been able to explore more and see more of what this beautiful land has to offer. At first pass it reminded me of New Zealand with its rolling hills and open fields, but I’ve seen that there’s so much more to it. Yesterday, we hiked for about 4 hours up to the ‘Mirador Base de las Torres’, a scenic overlook of the towers in the park. Rather than grassy hills, we were hiking up steep, rocky, mountainous terrain. We hiked so high that the mist became snow, and as the weather worsened we found ourselves hiking in a snowstorm up to a glacial lake and the base of the towers.

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The hike was gorgeous, and provided some incredible views of the park. We all felt the rough descent, and we were pretty excited to have beer waiting for us back at the van!

Today we decided to take it a bit easier, and went on a short two-hour walk through flat land and over to some cave paintings from 9-10,000 years ago. We saw quite a few guanaco (guanacos?), which were completely unafraid of us. We also saw quite a few guanaco carcasses, courtesy of the pumas in Patagonia. That attracted condors, so we got to see a bunch of them as well! Thanks guanaco! And puma…

In the afternoon, we went on a horseback ride through some flat areas of the park. While horses are pretty scary giant muscly things, it was actually a lot of fun riding around and seeing more of the beautiful park. And it was pretty nice to be sitting for a change!

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Chile

The Bottom (Or Top) of the Planet!

A couple of days ago, we finally said ‘Adios’ to Santiago! It was a gorgeous and all-around incredible city, and after 5 days we met up with our parents and flew down to Punta Arenas. It’s just about as far south as you can possibly go, and even hosts excursions to Antarctica! If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to snag a day-trip and check that continent off.

Ever since arriving in Patagonia, I can’t help but think about how much it looks like New Zealand. Between the rolling hills, jagged mountains, and abundance of sheep, it really feels like I’m back in the Hobbit’s homeland! The area is absolutely gorgeous, and we drove for upwards of 5 hours today without seeing any part of the land look any less beautiful.

After a long drive, we finally came to our home for the next 5 days: Tierra Patagonia. The hotel is incredible. From the exterior looks like an capsized boat, and the interior is beautifully decorated with local wood and walls full of windows. We did a half-day hike on arrival, walking around the area and taking in some views of the mountains and the lake in the national park. I’m looking forward to more of this amazing park!

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Chile

Around Santiago and Up San Cristobal

After a few days in Santiago, Lexi and I have been able to settle in and get a better feel for the city. While it’s ridiculously hot and I’m a bit sunburned, the city just gets better and better. We visited Lastarria, a small neighborhood of a few blocks near one of the Universities in Santiago, and tried out local beers and coffees. I also picked up a waffle full of strawberries, bananas, nutella, caramel, and whipped cream. It was incredible, and made the trip worth it on it’s own.

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The next day we got up and went to hike up the San Cristobal hill. It’s supposed to be a 30-45 minute hike, but we managed to get very lost. We took the wrong turn at every possible opportunity, and wound up in a construction site on more than one occasion. Somehow we still made it up in just under 45 minutes, but it was hot, steep, and overall very painful. Finally getting to the top was well worth it, though, as we were rewarded with gorgeous views of the entire city of Santiago!

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Chile

Santiago!

We have arrived in Santiago and spent two days so far exploring the city. It’s been amazing, and the city is very different from any city I visited in Colombia. The infrastructure seems more modern, and the drivers all respect the rules of the road! It’s great!

We landed some time around midnight on Sunday, and went straight to our apartment and to sleep. The next day I got up early, walked around the neighborhood we’re staying in, Las Condes, and checked out a rather giant shopping mall. Later, Lexi and I went to a climbing gym, as it’s been a couple of weeks since we did any climbing and we were anxious to see what it’s like here. As it turns out it’s very hot, a bit slippery, but overall very familiar and everyone was very friendly. We came back, exhausted, and went to sleep.

Finally, we spent most of today on rental bikes, going up and down the main street through the center of the city. We stopped at the Plaza de Armas (I think?), went through a few different parks, and got to see how most of the city conducts a standard Tuesday afternoon.

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Colombia

Carnaval!

For our last night in Colombia, Lexi and I got to go to the first of the Carnaval pre-parties! We went to watch the Carnaval Queen, Marcella Garcia Caballero, read ‘El Bando’. Basically, it’s the presentation of the Queen to the people, and she tells them that Carnaval is starting and reads off some decrees. The whole thing is played out in the form of an hour-ish musical, with dances and instrumental music going through the history of each of the symbols and costumes associated with Carnaval. While I didn’t understand a whole lot of what the Queen was saying, I could still enjoy the crazy dances and costumes flying around the stage.

After the Queen’s musical-ish-thing, a couple of musical acts came on and entertained everyone until somewhere around 12:30, and people finally started to disperse. Lexi and I had been in the VIP section the entire time, and so we hadn’t actually seen how large the crowd really was. I thought I saw it all from where we were standing, but as we moved out to go look for our car, we saw that most of the side streets were absolutely packed with people. Thousands of locals had come out to dance in the street, drink, and celebrate the first days of Carnaval! It was really cool to see, and overall a fun and exhausting night.

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El Bando crowd stretching back to the Cathedral. It actually went down several side streets and around the Cathedral as well.

Our family gave us an amazing stay in Colombia, and a great start to our trip! Now it’s on to Santiago, Chile!

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Colombia

Trip to Cartagena

Today I left Barranquilla for the day to explore the nearby port city of Cartagena! This gorgeous city has an old castle (which once repelled a 3-month pirate siege), an old city, and a new section with high-rise apartments and a gorgeous bay. It’s incredible to see one city with so much history and also so much modern growth side-by-side.

The first thing we checked out was the castle. It was a terribly hot day, but the castle is alone on a large hill and has some great views of the rest of the city and the ocean. It was great to run around on the old walls and through the tunnels that connect various parts of the castle. We hung around for a bit and then left for the old city.

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The old city was amazing. The old Spanish colonial architecture is always fun to see, and it’s all over this section of the city. Brightly colored buildings line the narrow streets and squares, and an old wall wraps around the entire area. We stopped in for some delicious pastries and sandwiches, checked out the wall and other old buildings, and left to drive around the new city. While it didn’t offer as much for walking around and examining history, the new city still had plenty of beautiful new buildings. Overall, the city was amazing. I could easily see spending more than a week there, between all of the history of the old city and the beaches for relaxing and playing. Perhaps next trip!

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Colombia

Family and Food!

It’s been a week since we’ve left Atlanta, and it’s still weird to think that a week is 1/27th of our total travels. There’s still a long way to go! So that’s exciting.

Our past couple of days have been spent meeting more family members and having more amazing food. I’m surprised by every meal here, they’re all so elaborate and so good! Apparently that’s just normal, they like to eat well and so they make sure they always do (I like to eat well too, but usually in Atlanta I have eggs, a sandwich, or cereal). Not only is the food delicious, but there is always so much of it so that everyone who visits can eat as much as they like. The past few nights we’ve spent with various family members that I hadn’t met before, and that I got to speak very slow Spanish and/or English with.

In particular, we’ve spent a lot of time with Lucy’s mother / Camilo’s grandmother, Josefina. She claims not to speak much English (though she always understands me), but she speaks Spanish very slowly. It’s awesome, because I can actually understand and sometimes even respond, which is very motivating. She also knew my father and aunt from a long time ago when they visited Colombia, and so we FaceTime’d with them so she could speak to them again. She looked like you might expect someone to look who was speaking with a family member that they hadn’t seen in decades: like she was so happy she might cry.

It’s been a great week taking part in this culture! We have a few more days here before we’re off to Santiago, but I already hope I get to come back someday to see more of the country and hopefully speak more conversational Spanish.

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Colombia

Aguardiente

Last night was my first night out with my Colombian cousins, Camilo and Carolina. Lexi and I went out with Camilo to meet Carolina and visit some nearby bars. I had heard talk of this mysterious “firewater”, and Carolina was eager to introduce me to it. I have found that my cousins can drink incredible quantities of alcohol, suffer the same side-effects as a normal human, and then decide to do it all over again the next night. It’s incredible, and I most certainly can’t keep up.

We visited a couple of different bars, and our cousins explained how we’re all related, the ways in which we resemble each other, and the traits that I have inherited from their side of the family. The culture here is very family-centric. Obviously this is the sort of thing you hear about before venturing into South America, but it’s very true and something I wasn’t expecting to be so real. I met a few other distant family members and everyone told me about the times my father and his siblings visited them, how they were related to me, and asked the same few questions to catch up on my entire life so far. I use the same broken Spanish and English to convey my field of study, interests, and travel plans, and ask them about themselves and where they’re from.

Apart from meeting my distant relatives and spending a night out, Lexi and I also visited Santa Marta, another town about an hour away. We visited Simon Bolivar’s estate, went to a local aquarium, and toured the beaches of Santa Marta and nearby towns. It was gorgeous, and the driving again terrified me. But at least the view from the car was pretty this time.

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Colombia

First Days Away!

So our travels have officially begun! At 5:30 in the morning on January 5th, Lexi and I began an 18-hour voyage down to our cousins in Barranquilla, Colombia. Leaving just in time to escape the onset of Winter in the US, and enjoy the coastal Colombian climate.

Our first two days here have been pretty calm, although I have to mention that the driving in Colombia would terrify just about anyone from the US. Apparently there is no driver’s test in Colombia, only a brief “theoretical driving” course and a few drives with an instructor (or, if you don’t want to go through the hassle of learning to drive, you can just bribe a city official). It is readily apparent, as there is abject chaos on the streets of Barranquilla. Lanes are meaningless, traffic lights are mostly just decorations, and I’m not convinced that many drivers down here are even aware of the fact that they are not alone on the road. Even so, somehow the people just make the whole thing work.

Apart from the driving, everything down here has been pretty incredible for us. Our cousins are showing us around their city, we’ve visited a Colombian heritage museum, relaxed at a pool overlooking the coast, and tried all kinds of amazing new foods.

So now we’re settling in, planning out some trips around other Colombian towns, and enjoying messing with Pipo (pictured below)

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