Link

Santiago

p1020126

Parts of the capital city seem European with the grand architecture reminiscent of Paris.  Our first night was diagonally across from the Fine Arts Museum and a small park.  Hotel Altiplanico Bellas Artes is a minimalist efficient place to stay.  Large rooms, lovely varied breakfast buffet, and professional desk clerks made for a comfortable stay.  Of interest, the bedroom was open, spacious, with a sink and bathtub out in the open.  Behind a door is the toilet tucked into a corner with a open shower area at the other end.  Really cool was the large square rain shower head which I only noticed while looking up as I washed my hair.  I pulled a knob to activate it and was blanketed in a warm comforting rain enveloping my entire back.  Heavenly.

p1020078

After a large repast in the morning we walked around a few blocks to take in the sun and sights.

We were back at the hotel just before nine to complete paperwork on the car rental, a luxurious, to us, BMW series 1 delivered personally by Christopher.  Then it was time to try to find a SIM card and actually get some data time that would last longer than a few minutes.  Oh, my gosh, what an inefficient system.  One can buy a card but to get more data one has to go to stores, only certain grocery stores we found out later, to add money.  One only hopes that the internet data are sufficient to get you by for what you need….such as using Waze to get out of the city and on to the next one.  150mb seemed rather meager.  It did get us on the road and to the BnB fortunately.

I was really interested and frustrated in dealing with locals in that their Spanish, which I was later assured by a bilingual young woman is truly Spanish, has very different sounds which made me think of Portuguese.  Strange.  Google enlightened me with all the clipped endings and an exchange of the sound of ch and sh with later of a lower class if replacing the former.  Saying “shocolate” would horrify an upper crust person.  http://www.spanish.cl/chilean-spanish-pronunciation.htm

Upon returning from the coast two days later we nighted in the Eurotel Providencia, very much a residential/commercial area.  It reminded me of the expensive parts of Lima.  For my sixty-fourth birthday we enjoyed a dinner at a French restaurant, Le Bistrot, and yes, there is a final t!  My onion tart and green salad were pretty good.  To celebrate my cumpleaños we each ordered a chocolate volcano with caramel lava, cream with a dab of raspberry sauce, and vanilla ice cream.  Although not as intense as Phillipe Capel’s it was still a tasty choice.

Traffic is thick there though drivers are courteous and give the right of way to pedestrians.  It was a bit tricky to get back to the autopista to make our way to the airport and we never did find a gas station to refill the tank before returning the car.

Upon the return from Patagonia we spent one more night in Santiago.  The owner of Patio Yungay took us on a quick tour to show us the available restaurants and give us a bit of history.  Even a high catwalk was included!  The neighborhood was older than the others with many building from the earlier 20’s being renovated for residences.  There is more graffiti here and funky restaurants in old houses and a retro barbershop.

Patagonia – Final days

Rain woke me early.  Since we were not meeting for breakfast until 9 we lounged in bed catching up on the internet and editing our plethora of photographs.

When our guide finally appeared we decided to leave at ten and just drive around hoping to find something of interest.  By then the refreshing air was drying.  We took off in the opposite direction of the ferry we were to board before two o’clock.  A mirador provided a lookout of the colorful town of Porvenir.

Then we drove on down the gravel road and came across some shanties where fishermen lived and were working on boats.  This was the highlight of the day!  Bastian gained their permission for us to take photographs.  At first the group of men were trying to get a motor working.  The youngest man, Raul, fetched a king crab from his shack to show us its size.  It was enormous!  One kilo of crab yields 300 grams of meat, and this one was more than a kilo.  Littered on the shore were dead starfish, tossed aside as they eat everything and came in with the haul.  Cut an arm off and a new one will regenerate.  The cut off arm will grow an entire starfish!  They are not seen positively.  A few bivalve shells, a cow’s head, and a couple of cats added to the scenery.  The men also put a boat into the water using logs and bright yellow tubes to push it from sand to sea.  It took all of them, drunk or not, to be suceessful.

img_1936

After picking up our box lunches we drove to the ferry dock and detoured to another mirador.  This provided a view of the mainland in the far distance across the Magellan Straits.  The buffeting wind was brisk.  Being on one the small fishing boats must be downright bone chilling!

While Bastian and Jorge did paperwork for the ferry, Bill and I meandered around the pier area looking at well-used boats, gulls, and ducks.  A two hour ferry ride back to Punta Arenas gave us ample time to edit photos.  We checked into the hotel, bade good-bye to Bastian, and good night to Jorge who would transfer us to the airport at the next day.

As it was not time for dinner we walked around town to the Plaza de las Armas where we purchased gifts for the neighbor girls who played with Jack while we travelled.  I also bought a lightweight long sleeved purple Sherpa pullover shirt at half price from the outdoors store on the way back to the hotel.

King crab cannelloni was the dish for which they are famous so we each enjoyed that, a glass of wine, and dessert.  Bailey’s Creme Brûlée was Bill’s choice, and I had rhubarb ice cream with calafateé sauce.  It is made from a local berry, often in Pisco sours, and looks like a blueberry.  It is more acidic and has lots of hard seeds.

In the morning we ambled about again and found ourselves on a high mirador with a wide view of the harbor.  It turns out Jorge lives s block from there!  When we parted ways at the airport I realized I would miss him most of all.  He has two kids, the three year old with Down’s syndrome, and he is just a kind kind man.  With his rapid paced Spanish I was hesitant to talk with him but would have loved to have done so more.  It was good to have him share meals with us.

Patagonia Day 5 – Puerto Natales to Penguins

This was a very very very long driving day as we were due to view the King penguins at the far end of Tierra del Fuego.  The road stretched on endlessly with no trees, lots of sheep, as well as some guanacos and rheas.  We finally had to ask for a pit stop.  My privacy zone, as it was, came behind a bit of a dirt pile where some excavation had taken place.  It did the job.  The wind was powerful so I got a free blow dry as my Kleenex was grabbed out of my hand and whisked around the curve of the dirt.

Sadly, we saw a dead grey fox by the side the of the road, and later fleetingly spied a live one.

We began to wonder about our goal of ever getting to see the penguins before it was too late.  Along the way we took a bit of a detour to see some flamingos in a salt lake.  The fierce wind made it challenging to hold still enough for long range photos.  They were lunching on shrimp so most heads were in the water.

p1030027

Then it was on to see ancient crater remains where lizards are sometimes found; however, it was too cloudy for them to come out.  The lichen covered walls looked creepy, and a very large cave must have the source of envy for the have-nots.  The area was great for humans due to the quantity of food available and the comforting protection from the brutal winds.

After a quick lunch in the van we got back on the road for a few more hours.  After some driving, a twenty minute ferry ride, and more driving we finally, about 5:15, reached the private penguin reserve.  We had just forty-five minutes until they closed, but kindly she gave us an hour.   These imperial looking large birds were just across a narrow river with the ocean in the distance.  We were to stand behind a wooden blind with a row of shelves at various heights from which we could shoot photographs.  A few were in the process of molting, and one brown chick, rather tall, kept preening itself.  There was little movement though a few waddled about, and one lone penguin wandered back to the dunes and perhaps, the ocean.  The intense wind came right through the viewing space and rattled the structure and me.  It was really cool to see the King Penguins which are quite similar to the Emperor Penguins with the yellow orange graduated neck decoration.  Their means of moving about is humorous.  When they hold their heads down they appear sad; when they hold their head upright they appear proud and smug. 

p1030068

After purchasing a t-shirt and being given pins we boarded the van for another two hours to get to our hotel.  It was almost nine o’clock by the time we had dinner.

Patagonia Day 4- Caves

img_1810

Since we were leaving the park for good and not in a particular hurry we were able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast and then wandered down to the river.  Besides the obligatory goose family, southern Lapwings were walking about and talking.  As they are ground nesters perhaps they were scouting out the area.  These duck sized birds were still enough to photograph and get a pretty good result.

After checking out we retraced our steps and made our way to the Mylodon Cave Nature Reserve where years ago a small piece of the extinct mylodon, related to the sloth, was found.  Perched on the railing of the gift shop was a wild eagle, a chimango caracara, who seemed tame.  It didn’t care if people stood right next to it.  A scavenger, all it cares about is what we humans might give them, either directly or indirectly.  The main cave of conglomerate rock was carved by waves of an ancient lake.  It was used as shelter by a large array of Pleistocene mammals, including this giant sloth.  We also visited three other smaller caves which pre-Colombians used several thousand years ago.  We hiked the flat trails connecting each of the caves giving us a good workout of a few kilometers, especially as we had to walk back to the parking area in the middle.  The picnic lunch was then enjoyed by the enormous rock formation called Devil’s Chair.

We then drove on to Puerto Natales where we spent the night in an unusual contemporary hotel near the fiord.  Each room was $484!! I sure hope that included our dinner!

Patagonia Day 3 – Out and About

Not being in a rush we were able to enjoy the generous breakfast buffet before driving off to the east side of the park.  We passed several lookouts we enjoyed earlier and then turned off to a road new to us.  The day was spent at lookouts with stunning vistas all with the gorgeous glacial and even non-glacial waters.  I would never tire of seeing such beauty.

Throughout the day we passed herds of guanacos, and even saw a male trying to mate but the female wasn’t interested.  Male rheas, ñandús, were seen with their chicks.  They will adopt so one might see various ages.  The mother lays the eggs and takes off!    How strange she has no interested rearing her young and leaves it to the father.  A goose family was also near a visitor center.  Mama is brown while Dad is white.  Along the way back a large herd of sheep was crossing the road forcing us to almost stop so they could get out of the way.

fullsizerender-284

One different spot which involved a bit of a walk was to a non-glacial water hole, Sarmiento Lake,  with a coral like rock formation, called Trombolite made of cianobacteria.  As it is very sharp we had to be especially cautious not to fall on it. The water was unbelievably clear and aquamarine near shore yet cobalt blue in the depths.  Pumas are sometimes seen resting there at mid-day but not this day.

I spied sudden movement next to the path, and there was a Sarmiento Lizard!  While trying to get photos, Bastian carefully moved some stones where they might be living.  In doing so we found a second one.  They were difficult to photograph but the red spots on its underside did appear.

Our picnic was in an open field with guanacos lounging in the warm sunshine and towering peaks in the distance creating an amazing backdrop.

Later in the day we visited another aquamarine waterfall which sent up a fine spray pretty high in the air.

fullsizerender-310

Patagonia Day 2 – Glacier and Icebergs

fullsizerender-226

After a quick breakfast at which I stuffed as much food in my mouth as I could, we loaded ourselves in the van and drove into Torres Del Paine Park and then on to Grey Glacier Hotel, about an hour away.  From there were walked about a half hour through woods, crossed a wobbly hanging bridge, and traipsed across a gravel spit to arrive at the Catamaran which would take us out to see Glacier Grey.  The views of the mountains as we walked were incredible.  We could even see small blue icebergs in the distance.

As we made our way across the water, well dressed in layers for protection against the brisk wind due to boat movement, larger impressive icebergs foreshadowed the vast blue Glacier we were approaching.  I was quite surprised with intensity of the blue in the cracks and one particular chunk of ice.  The first section continued the bitter cold wind which about froze my gloved fingers.  Fortunately, we were given a free drink.  Even though I had to settle for black tea, at least it was weak and HOT.  It was a great chance to thaw my nipped digits on the warming glass mug.  The next section was decidedly warmer due to little breeze, with the third being quite pleasant.

The captain was rather good about giving everyone time to take dozens and dozens of photos.  Bill and Bastian, our guide, opted for a Pisco sour made with glacial ice captured and picked to bits by the crew.  Supposedly they imbibed ancient water!  I saw two little calvings in the distance but no large chunks broke off as we saw in Alaska.

Back inside we previewed our takings as the captain steered us back to the landing point.  The whole time on the water was about three hours.  I was surprised when I viewed my photos on the iPad later that there was more blue in the Glacier than I had noticed with my eyes.

Upon returning  to the van we gathered our lunches and found some picnic tables where we fortified ourselves with enormous bag lunches from the hotel.  Two sandwiches, a juice box, a bottle of water, a cereal bar, and a small candy bar was way too much food!

Next stop was Lake Pehoe where we stepped up several times along a boardwalk with simply amazing views of the mountains with their reflections in the lake.  Pictures speak louder than words.

 

img_3560

We also saw a few guanaco.  Over the years they have been selectively bred for their fur, etc. to become the well known popular llamas.

fullsizerender-273

The last area was a short but wide waterfall of the aguamarine glacial water that just amazes me.  I will never tire of that Caribbean water color.  By then the sun was high and beating down strongly.  We all got really hot despite shedding a layer or two from the boat.  With few short trees shade is basically non-existent.  Our one fellow passenger takes forever to photograph anything.  One would think with all his big fancy equipment he would know more about what he is doing.  We stood around a lot waiting for him.  There was a trail but after following it for a bit I had to return to the van as I was just too sun beaten from being outside all day, even with sunscreen.  Bastian and Jan continued on but even they didn’t make it to the end.  The distant mountains are compelling and call to some.

Upon returning to the hotel we showered and rested before overeating another bountiful dinner buffet with several desserts!  The best was the chocolate créme broulee….so wonderful we each had two!  They were small!

Patagonia Day 1 – Penguins to Park

fullsizerender-192We were picked up at 6:35 and whisked away to the boat which would take us to see Magellan penguins, about forty-five minutes across the Magellan Straits.  Many other tourists were on board with other agencies.

About forty-five mintues later we disembarked in slight drizzle and immediately saw black and white Magellan penguins in the water and on shore.   Shallow burrows were everywhere and in a few we were rewarded with seeing grey fuzzy young nestled against their parent.  Penguins mate for life and both parents take turns nurturing their offspring.  In one nest I am pretty sure I saw two babies!  Conferences were taking place around the island, some singles were calling for their mate sounding a bit distressed, others were frolicking in the shallow water near the shore, and some were just hanging out.  Seagulls were also plentiful. One lone sea lion was swimming close to shore, and a semi-flightless duck was perched on a rock in the water.

In a few of the underground burrows we could glimpse a baby, and I think one of them had twins!

We meandered along the trail up to the lighthouse where there are displays giving information about the penguins and sea lions.  As we only had an hour I just used the bathroom and headed on down the trail taking many more photos and videos of these cool creatures.  This is a good year as more returned and did so earlier, thus nesting sooner than normal.

As conditions were favorable the captain decided to take us by Marta Island to glimpse a sea lion colony.  We had to go out on top of the boat but due to the tossing of the vessel, the drizzle, and too many people wanting to see I joined Bill back inside.  Just before leaving we noticed the sea lions swimming nearby, but by the time I got back outside the captain was taking off.

Once back on land we began the long five and a half hour drive drive to Torres del Paine National Park where we were to spend the next three nights at Hotel Rio  Sorreno.  Not long after starting we glimpsed rhea in the distance, which we could see again another day to photograpy, and a random few flamingos in a distant watering hole.  Our guide, Bastion, was surprised to see them there.

After stopping for gas in Puerto Natales we gandered at the Black Neck Swans where one couple had a passel of cygnets foraging for algae.

Talk about a room with a view!  Wow!  No wonder the rate is well over $300 per night.  It includes breakfast which is an enormous array of hot and cold food, including cookies!  Despite filling our tummies beyond capacity I would still be hungry by lunch! During dinner Bastian suddenly noticed the horses were being let loose in the yard out back.  I dashed over to see them soooo excited to be able to run free.  They quickly set to munching on the grass keeping it nicely trimmed and depositing fertilizer!

The sunset happened about ten o’clock and was interesting but not special.  My photos show more pink than I saw with my naked eye.  Darkness then descended pretty quickly.

Birthday at the Beach

Driving from Valparaiso north we came to passed Viña del Mar with Concón the final destination before heading back to Santiago.  Along the way we enjoyed views of the ocean, beaches, and wildlife.  There are many condminiums as Chileans enjoy vacationing on the coast, especially those from Santiago.  The most exciting part of this day trip was happening upon a distant colony of sea lions.  With the advantage of binoculars and zoom lenses we were able to enjoy a closer visual of these ocean creatures.  The primary bull was absolutely enormous! Several sea lions would descend the rock outcropping offshore for a respite in the salty water.  Heaving themselves, especially the head honcho, back onto the lowest rock and then further upward seemed quite challenging.

Here is a short video of the sea lions:  https://flic.kr/p/PBQFSy Sea lions

The aquamarine water in places was just gorgeous, especially against the dark craggy rocks.  Across the road from one lookout is an enormous steep sand dune known for sand boarding though we only saw one daredevil exiting with his ride under his arm.  Though not great for surfing, some men were treading water hopefully.

There was also a pack of sea kayakers setting out as we lunched.  Punta del Este is a professionally staffed enterprise.  Cloth napkins were placed next to using tongs, and freshly baked rolls were served with butter and salsa.  Still warm, they were quite delicious.  When I ordered sea bass and wanted to verify it was corvina and not the iffy corvineta, he was quite incensed I asked.  Fish and fries tasted yummy.  Two rolls were left and just before leaving I wrapped them in napkins.  As I made my way to the bathroom before leaving, the waiter came towards me quickly with a plastic bag for me to put them in.  I guess he met me before!

From Concón we headed east and then south.  The landscape is dry with trees well-spaced on the hillsides.  The air was rather hazy but we didn’t know if was moisture or pollution.

 

Valparaiso

fullsizerender-119Overcast and cool Valparaiso is a gritty colorful city with forty-six hills.  Driving in it, especially the hills, is daunting with narrow twisty roads and no where to pullover to let those with a penchant for riding close to get on with their day.  Fortunately I had enough data left to message our host to help us locate precisely her house with a loft.  After parking our not large car in a tiny parking area with just enough room to fit in and close the gate, we lugged our things down the steps and into the tiny residence.

Amelia’s is oh so cozy yet spotless and comfortable.  She even had a bottle of vino tinto waiting for Bill, a liter of agua mineral chilling in the fridge for me, and a wooden dish filled with peanuts, almond, walnuts, as well as dried apricots and raisins.  The wifi speed topped the chart at 60!!  Costa Rica offers just a small fraction of that!  The view from the bedroom in the loft is just as wonderful of the city and ocean as in her pictures.

She has many flowers growing just outside her residences and the walkway is lined with colorful benches and painted tires.  We wandered down the steep passage on to the flat city area.

We happened upon another phone store where we were given more information about how to get more data and hope it works!  One has to buy a SIM card at the store but get more data, minutes, etc. only at three grocery stores.  Very inefficient and frustrating!  While Santiago seems very clean, Valparaiso doesn’t have as much pride in that regard.  Over time we found that the data works well for social media sites but is useless to check email, search Google, etc.  Rather frustrating and inconvenient.

Our first foray into town was to the water but not quite over to the docks, which we did the next day.  On the way back we passed through some parks.

After an expensive breakfast of moist scrambled eggs with bits of bacon served with tasteless white toast, the next day we meandered up and down the hill with the best street art. At the beginning we noticed a garbage truck with several workers and a faithful following behind.  The poor thing probably finds his job rewarding from time to time.  One man even gave it a warm hug.

Bill bought himself a belt from a local leather worker.

Some of the street artwork is garish and unseemly while others I found soothing.  It was quite a mix. The stairs painted as piano keys were fun though silent as one walks up and down them.

For lunch we ended up splitting an empañado with pino, a meat mixture of local interest.  The sky was overcast until early afternoon when we arrived at the port after descending via a steeeeep ascensor.  The oldest one was having repairs so we took another one nearby.

After about five miles of walking we rested back at Amelia’s for a bit and then trekked back down the hill to a Peruvian restaurant.  Bill dined on Lomito Saltado and I shrimp risotto.  The portions were generous enough to save some for breakfast which we reheated in the microwave.

Tortuguero Tours and Town

Spending three days in Tortuguero was a definite highlight of our three-plus years in Costa Rica.  We flew NatureAir, a small plane which holds about twenty people, from SJO to TTQ.  The twenty minute flight took us over the mountains and through the clouds with a few bumps of turbulence now and then.  Good thing the pilot wasn’t toooo bored!  The landing was smooth and the terminal open to the elements yet vacant.  The onboard flight magazine provided a snapshot of the national park information.

As we approched the Caribbean we noticed what later were confirmed to be turtle tracks.  They were everywhere!  I was soooooo excited to finally be where I could watch the turtles on the beach coming and going and making their nests.  I didn’t think we had a chance of seeing hatchlings though they were around.  Nesting starts in July and gestation is two months putting us right at a good time for a possibility of seeing babies as well.  Alas, we only saw one amd it had died.

Tortuguero is a very small town with most of its inhabitants being from nearby Nicaragua.  There are no cars, just paths meandering through the community and paralleling the beaches.  If one drives then one must park somewhere and arrive by water taxi.  One can also take a bus and then proceed on the water.   Swimming is not encouraged due to the strong currents, though I did see a couple doing just that, and the canals are crocodile condominiums.

Andrés, our host, met us at the airstrip and gave us a ride back to his place.  First, however, he took us out to the edge of the sea and then back along the canal.  He was very excited to spy both Swainson’s and keel-billed toucans and stopped to let us enjoy the sights.  We finally told him we were residents, had seen them before, and that we are volunteers at the Toucan Rescue Ranch.  We didn’t want to kill his excitement for us but thought it was something to share.  Along the way he pointed out various lodgings.

Having arrived early morning, we spent the day familiarizing ourselves with town and discussing tour options with Andrés.  Deciding to go on a morning canoe tour with him the next day we opted for a night tour which would let us get to bed earlier than the turtle expedition.  We saved that for the next night.

There is just a path which goes from the park to through the central part of town lined with shops, restaurants, and tour agencies.  There are two water taxi ports on the canal.  Along the way we meandered down to the water where a local, who bragged about keeping that spot tidy, pointed out some tiger herons and green iguanas in the overhead tree.

That first night we met downstairs at the appointed time to meet a different guide and a man we had met earlier, boarded the boat, and whizzed across the canal to another property for the jungle walk.   On my wish list for three years was not just to see turtle nestings, but to spy a blue jeans frog.  Their coloring is bright red with blue rear legs and backside.  Not only did we see one, we saw several!  Yes!  There were also rain frogs, a tarantula, banana spider, anole, dink frogs, grasshoppers, and bullfrogs.  Fortunately, no snakes!  Mammals and birds kept themselves hidden as well.29216316193_5e6f61facf_z

The next morning we were up early as the canal tour was due to start by 6 AM.  Andrés had coffee ready and boiled water so I could make an infusion using his herbs on the balcony we shared with him and his girlfriend.  There were packages of cookies to tied us over until later on when we could get a proper breakfast.  A friendly young Dutch couple joined us for the water adventure.

Just up a bit from the dock was a sloth lying on its back at the top of a tree, perhaps doing its version of the sun salute.  After getting our park tickets for the day we headed up the other side of an island and then down some side canals.  Along the way we viewed another sleepy sloth who woke up a bit and lifted its head, blue morphos, a caiman, two separate howler monkey babies, a tiger heron, raucous mealy parrots, a pair green macaws flying overhead, an emerald basilisk, anhingas, and a northern jacana feeding amongst the water plants.  We hoped to see a river otter but none were around that made themselves known.

That afternoon we entered the park on foot and after navigating some dicey wet areas the path became drier.  A few other people were out as well, including two women from Russia!  The younger one spoke some English.  My college friend Diana had avoided the park as she had heard snakes often lined the trails. Fortunately, we were spared those sightings which was helpful as I spent a lot of time looking up for monkeys.  We were rewarded a few times with white-faced capuchins scampering about looking for fruits including a mother carrying a baby on her back, and then with spider monkeys just as we were about to exit.  On the ground were several anoles and lizards, the ever-present leafcutter ants, and even a yellow crab not far from the beach.  A phallic fungus was even seen!  As we returned due to the impending storm we met up with the Russian women who had just seen a land turtle on the side of the path yet we didn’t see it where they said it had been.

The second night an electrical storm came through and wetness continued all morning.  We meandered down other paths while waiting for the Sea Turtle Conservancy to open at ten.  Bags of sand and concrete pavers were used for people to dry to prevent soaking their footwear as they approached their houses. People bike in the rain, some with umbrellas.  Andrés said it once rained for forty-four days straight!  Yikes!  Down one alley we came across a piñata party with lots of children who had been accompanied by adults.  Presumably it was the father of the birthday girl who manipulated the swinging candy-filled wonder while the youngsters tried to break it open to free the sugary delights captured inside.

Tortuguero is a cool, ha ha, adventure to perhaps be repeated!