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Sandy and Wes in South America

a travel blog by yungwesl

Trouncing around Chile, Easter Island and Argentina
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Day 0 - Packing

Vancouver, Canada

Getting ready for the flight out to Toronto and experiencing one of THE most relaxing packing experiences ever. Leaving on a Tuesday certainly makes things simpler and there isn't the mad rush to throw shit into bags. Still, I am certain we'll forget something very vital and curse on the plane.

Too much time can also be a bad thing.

permalink written by  yungwesl on January 5, 2009 from Vancouver, Canada
from the travel blog: Sandy and Wes in South America
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Day 1 - The flight out

Toronto, Canada

Nothing like getting out of the Vancouver slush on an early ride with Jeff to the airport. We had yet ANOTHER delay to our flight (now that's 2 hours).

Free internet in YVR is our friend. How on earth did our parent survive 2 hour delays let alone longer. Finally boarded after using a 2-for-1 at A&W for some bacon and eggers.

The plane was...nice! Amazing for air canada! In fact every seat even had power plugs. This is new to me as I guess I've been shoved in some pretty old ass planes in the past. Regardless they even had USB pugs for charging my phone. Thank you Air Canada! Service was surly at best...this doesn't surprise me too much for the airline. I do enjoy the movie selection, very nice indeed. I even got to watch some episodes of House. Needless to say my book has 10 pages read. We shouldn't complain, they were apologising to many people flying back from down under who were probably subjected to a muti-day layover in Vancouver during the snow storm.

Now we're in the T.dot waiting again...4 hours...we got herded into the secure area after seeing all the wonderful airport cafes and crap we could have enjoyed. Now we're in the 'secure' area with pretty limited facilities - still it's not that bad. In fact we enjoyed a lovely 4 chicken strips and some salad for a low low $32. Yay airports.

Coming up next, 10 hour flight to Santiago. Feel those legs go to sleep...feel em!

permalink written by  yungwesl on January 6, 2009 from Toronto, Canada
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Day 2 - Eagle has landed

Vina del Mar, Chile

Landed safely in Santiago after a pretty damn long flight. I believe Sandy was complaining that I slept soundly and without interruption. Looks like I take after dad afterall.

Language barriers became an immediate problem as soon as we got off the plane and attempts at english got more and more difficult as we left. Good fun! I am amazed at the power of context and arm flailing. We humans can really communicate without saying anything!

We rented a small car (manual tranny - woo woo) and made our way to Vina del Mar. Let me say....tolls suck ass! We were eying the ATM at the airport and for some reason did not decide to pull some Peso's out. Dumbasses. Anyways we hit three (3) THREE toll booths on our way and paid a total of about $9 USD. The worrying part was the unknown tollbooth we might run into and the fact that we were clean out of small bills. We get to wait till tomorrow to hit the bank and get a favourable exchange. Until then we're going to get raped with USD pricing.

Weather however is awesome. Gotta be around 27 and sunny. Very dry heat too. Enjoying it. We checked into the hotel after navigating a mad number of one way streets and are just cleaning up in prep for siesta and then check out the town. Pics to follow, only now have we actually opened the damn camera bag :)

permalink written by  yungwesl on January 7, 2009 from Vina del Mar, Chile
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Day 4 - Valparaiso

Valparaiso, Chile

We got up pretty late this morning and managed to make it to free breakfast before it closed. Simple stuff - eggs, toast, sausages. The plan of attack today was to head for Valparaiso (the seaside city close to our seaside town of Vina Del Mar).

Valparaiso it incredibly hilly and as a result there are multiple Funicular's around. We managed to catch a ride on 2. Parking was a nightmare as expected so we took our little 1.6L Nissan up the ridiculously steep slopes and found parking amongst the rats nest of streets in one of the Cerra's (hills). In fact it was such an insane twisted mess getting to our spot we had to take a picture of the cross street and mark down the names of hostels in the area if we had any hope of finding the car again.

We hiked down the streets and stumbled upon a very nice cafe overlooking a plaza in the city. The houses all around Valparaiso are painted in a multitude of colours making the hillside quite beautiful to look at.

Unfortunately many of the buildings are also pretty delapitated so what you see a lot of is rust on the corrugated metal walls and roofs. A street band was starting up "check uno, dos, tres, quattro, quattro, cinco, cinco, uno, uno". You could hear em clear up the valley.

After a nice jaunt down a large number of stairs we found ourselves in downtown Valparaiso. We made quick work of getting to the Plaza of Heroes and took some snaps of the Chilean Armada building and the statue of las heroes. We toured around and found a funicular up to a viewpoint.

The funicular was a little scary - it was about 100 years old.

Now I know where the reports come from.
And James, this is for you...

More touring about found us in yet another plaza where, I swear to god or whatever non-god you might believe or not believe in, there was a guy who looked a little like a postal worker walking through the plaza. This isn't the shocking part of course, no it was the 5-6 dogs previously frolicking in the fountain - can you guess what they did? Yep, they chased the hell out of him barking and snarling.

Ok so we find our way to yet another funicular which I might add is WAY more vertical than the one we took earlier and got up most of the way to the car and drove it back down to find some food. We ended up at the other end of town at a grocery called "Santa Isabel" with a canteen sorta thing upstairs. We had a chicken leg, spicy mashed potatoes, a tamale (yum!) and some sort of veggie platter with tuna and a coke for...$7 CDN. mmmm now that's value!

We left Valparaiso earlier than expected and went hunting for the Wineries in Casablanca. We failed miserably. Don't ask me why it was horrible. Regardless we'll do better tomorrow I hope. On the way back we snapped a pick of the "flower clock"

We also checked out the beach in Vina Del Mar when we got back. Holy packed batman. It's a weeknight and they're packing the beaches. The view was nice at least. South Americans, most of them are in good shape ;)

We ate at 10:30pm tonight - a little earlier now and it was ok. The Paella was quite good and I had some kind of Eel which tastes like fish. Tomorrow it's wine time!

permalink written by  yungwesl on January 8, 2009 from Valparaiso, Chile
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Day 5 - Chilean Wines

Pirque, Chile

Before we begin we forgot to post this pic. It's what I like to call "Chilean Power Bar". This is a lamp post splitting power to houses in every which direction with absolutely no plan or organization. I guess the bottom line is, everyone got their power. Plugging the laptop in to charge overnight now makes us worry a little more.

We spent the day sampling wines at a few wineries in the Casablanca and Maipo regions. Casablanca is famous for their white varietals such as Sauv Blanc as well as their Pino Noir. It was painful finding the places and the government conveniently placed toll booths at all exits off the highway that leads to wineries. It made for a more difficult time getting to the actual wineries.

Our first stop was at Casa Del Bosque which won a few awards and has a 91pt Sauv Blanc which I wanted to try. The Building is gorgeous and he inside is very clean and modern looking. I'm not sure how old this winery is but the 'tasting room' consisted of comfy couches in a living-room setup and they bring drinks to you.

Well at least this was what we saw some other people doing. We got to taste in their tasting room which was layed out like a dining table. Still pretty fancy. I got to try a sauv blanc and a chardonnay as well as a pinot noir. The tasting cost us 5000 pesos (about $10CDN!). Needless to say I was very underwhelmed with the wines and we left. Well, we tried to leave but they took so long to give me change I ended up forcing them to move their asses. Who the hell fills out a DHL form when a customer is waiting to pay for tasting your barely passable wine?

Our next stop was Veramonte, a pretty large winery down the road from Casa Del Bosque. Their service was quick, they poured us a wine for 500 pesos ($1 CDN) so we tried 2 - Another Cab Sauv and another Pinot Noir (hell we're in Casablanca, this is the shit they grow here!). The Cab Sauv was delicious with nose of pinneaple and citrus fruits. We picked up a bottle. Oh and I got my change promptly here.

Our last stop (unforunately due to time constraints) was of course the mega winery - Concha Y Toro. This place is nuts. For a winery this large I am still surprised how difficult it was to get to by car. Their web site only posts "subway and taxi" solutions. Clearly it isn't an easy one to get to. Situated in the small town of Pirque, the winery is not really that close to a major highway and requires some poking around to find.

Ok the story of our journey to Concha Y Toro begins like any story by me. Google maps. So google maps had like 5 hits on this one location close to Pirque and some smattering of dots elsewhere. Since the winery web site didn't have directions we took the google ones with us. After a lot of detours and constructions zones we found a large archway with the name "Concha Y Toro". Awesome we found it. The security guard was very confused. We were trying to tell him we wanted to go to the Winery (arms gesticulating). He looked miffed but let us through. We drove in and found nothing but a Winery called Almaviva. Hmm. The gate was closed. We drove around to the front and went into the parking area....

A cop with a whistle tooted as us and had us freeze at our car and then asked us (my translation) "what the fuck are you doing here?". So some more gesticulating it turns out he has no idea what we want but he directed us out back the way we came (we thought he was giving us directions to the actual winery. No dice.

So we get more lost and end up a grocery store where some friendly girls there gave us directions. Well how nice, they gave us directions to the SAME Concha Y Toro with the same confused security guard. So that didn't work, we proceed to a gas station and he gives us the SAME directions BUT this time we tell him it's the one in Pirque and he goes "oh! Pirque". Directions were finally given and we finally stumbled on it. This is like the top wine producer in NORTH AMERICA. How the hell can it be so hard to find and in the middle of butt fuck nowhere with no signs? Hilarious.

So we get in, pay for a tour and do our thing. It's a pretty cool Winery with a few cheesy parts to the tour. The "motivational video" at the beginning was oozing Chikuwa Cheese. The "Diablo Story" where they turn out the lights to spook you is also pretty damn cheesy but hey its all in good fun and the Wine, most importantly, is quite quite good.

We picked up some Late harvest - how the hell do you go wrong with a $4 late harvest??. We also picked up a Marques - Cab Sauv (wow this was good) - $16USD and a bottle of the "Casillero Del Diablo - Cab Sauv - Syrah Blend" - $6 USD (!!). Wow man this is insanely cheap stuff.

We also found out what Almaviva was all about - It's a joint venture between Concha Y Toro and Baron Phillipe de Rothschild of France. Bourdeaux grapes with a French Ally Winemaker. The bottles were listed at about $124 USD each so I can see why we got our balls busted at the gate when we found a way into the winery. I'm guessing they only do private tastings there.

permalink written by  yungwesl on January 9, 2009 from Pirque, Chile
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Day 4 - Concon and Renaca (Day at the Beach)

Renaca, Chile

Beach Day! We headed north up the coast to Renaca and Concon. The day was sunny and the skies were blue - normal day in Chile :) We stopped off at a spot where Pablo Naruda did some of his writing. The spot overlooked the seaside cliffs of the pacific coast with a very cool breeze passing through. It was a great spot to reflect.

We continued northward to Renaca and noticed that going to the beach on a Saturday meant a LOT of people. Holy crap do Chilleans love the beach. We continued north a little more and when we arrived we had to find a small patch to camp out in. Chillean beaches are, in my opinion, the best beach experience I've ever had. The conditions are perfect (it's Wednesday and nothin's on TV); The sun is HOT, the breeze off the water is cool and when you lie down, you get the brilliant warmth of the sun. If it's too hot, you get up and the cool breeze brings immediate relief. The ocean is COLD as hell. That damn Humbolt current really does a good job. This is actually a good thing since the hot sun is well offset by the cold water. The surf is brilliant and body surfing is excellent.

After a good hot day at the beach, we decided to continue northward to Concon and located a wonderful Empanada spot on the street. The lady was nice enough to point out my options (Ground beef, Abalone, Crab, Mushroom, and like 6 more types).

We tried the crab, the abalone and the ground beef (pino). My god they were good. THESE were empanadas. The shells were crispy, the insides were hot and moist, the suckers were PACKED with crab. Seafood heaven baby, seafood heaven.

When we parked our car at the beach, this nice lady put a cardboard box on our windshield. This made a huge difference in the temp of our car when we got back. I tipped her and she was happy. I don't mind that service, it was quite nice not to have to air out the car. On our way back to Renaca, we noticed some of these cardboard boxes were - shall we say - branded? Nice. Very nice. Durex - protect your weenie, protect your car.

Our hostel hostess recommended La Gatita in Renaca for dinner as it "can't be missed". We arrived at around 10:30pm (normal for dinner). Talk about lines. It was like Stephos. Too bad the food wasn't as good! We got to eat around 11:30pm and ordered whatever fish was left. The fish was overcooked but the sauce was good. Sandy ordered a chillean salad as a side dish. Ha. That's onion and tomato uncooked. Who the heck just eats onion and tomato? Yuck!

permalink written by  yungwesl on January 10, 2009 from Renaca, Chile
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Day 5 - Easter Island

Hanga Roa, Chile

We got in around 1pm after a 5 hour flight from Santiago. Our first Mission? Check out the Moai close to our hotel. It's hard to describe the magic of being next to these statues in the flesh (Stone). Our first Moai was in Ahu Tahai which is a fully restored Moai with the eyes still in tact - yes they have eyes! The eyes in Ahu Tahai are made of Coral and Obsidian. This Moai sits alone on his own platform.

There were 5 more Moai's in the same village of Tahai. These were also restored but were not in as good of a shape as the main Moai on his own platform. All Moai's except 7 face inland towards the villiage that they represent. The Moai's themselves were chiseled out of Stone from a quarry in the eastern part of the island and then dragged to their platforms. The statues represent the nobility / leaders of the village and they range in size from 1.5m to a whopping 21m (yes 21 freakin meters high).

We learned that there is definitive proof now that the people who made these statues were from Polynesia (not Inca descent) and they made the 6000km journey on boats (mainly outriggers!).

We hung out around Tahai for sunset and snapped some more photos. Food in Rapa Nui is, as expected, inflated. I'd say food is about 3x the cost we experienced on the coast of Chile. We tried to keep to budget by locating cheaper, more local style places. This worked pretty well. We walked along the coast of the island from Tahai into Hanga Roa and enjoyed a simple snack/meal for the evening.

permalink written by  yungwesl on January 11, 2009 from Hanga Roa, Chile
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Day 6 - Easter Island Tour

Hanga Roa, Chile

We were very happy to have joined a full day tour to learn more about the history of the island and see some sights we probably would have missed. The top knot in this photo is actually representative of the red hair of the settlers tied up in a knot. So the original polynesian settlers had RED hair? Woa.

We saw many Moai's which had been toppled or had fallen over. Apparently the first settlers, who were referred to as "long ears", were the ones who came up with the idea of carving these icons. The second round of settlers, referred to as "short ears", arrived at the island with very low social status and worked as laborers. Eventually food on the island was running out and the lord could not keep their people fed, so there was a war. The laborers overthrew their lords and toppled their Moai's to destroy their "mana" or spiritual energy. Pretty much ALL Moai's were toppled in the war which meant that all these statues as we see them "upright" have been restored.

Another crappy thing was the Earthquake in the 1960s in Chile which created a tsunami that hauled ass through the island and pretty much wrecked a bunch of Moai's. This is the same earthquake which caused the tsunami in Japan!

We continued up to the Quarry where the Moai's were made. Man what the hell were these people thinking? Climb up to this rocky mountain, cut INTO the mountain and build these giant rock statues, cut them out of the mountain and then DRAG them down (possibly 3km) to the coast and then HAUL them upright onto these giant rock platforms. Oh yeah and if the lord didn't like the statue he had them make a new one. Let's not even go into what happens if it breaks on the way there. Regardless, the quarry is where you have Moai's that didn't make it out to the coast, Moai's that were rejected by the lords, maybe even spares?

There were additional stories of the top knots which come from a different area of the island. They were cut out as giant cylinders and then rolled to their final spot. The act of rolling caused the top knot to shrink in size as bits were abbraised off in transit. It's awe inspiring and continuously begs the question - why? Massive massive whips is my only answer.

We rounded out the tour at the site of 15 restored Maoi's in what must have been the largest village on the island. These 15 were restored by generous funding from Japan as well as some heavy equipment which was also donated. These 15 are simply amazing to look at.

permalink written by  yungwesl on January 12, 2009 from Hanga Roa, Chile
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Day 7/8 - Self Touring Easter Island

Hanga Roa, Chile

We rented an ATV for the day to putt around the island and check out sites we missed on the full day tour. We headed up one of the 3 volcanos on the island - Rano Kau. The volcanos are where much of the island's rain water is collected. What was a little shocking to us was what they DO in these volcanos. They FUMIGATE the suckers every year! This controls the mosquito population but man, talk about scorched earth policy. Still I guess our lack of bites was rather nice.

On top of the volcano is the village of Orongo. This village was built by the second settlers (short-ears) and contains like 21 rock houses which were used by the leaders of all the villages and only used for spiritual purposes. Every year they come up to this spot and watch a sea-bird come to the smaller islands viewable from the village to nest. These people then wait for the bird to lay eggs. Then it becomes an egg hunt. Yeah, you got it, an egg hunt on freakin EASTER ISLAND. The person who finds the egg becomes the new leader. These "bird-men" lived from the 17th century to the 18th. I still can't get over the "egg hunt" happening on the island which was discovered on Easter Sunday. It's wonderful.

We got back down and checked out the museum and learned a bit more about the history of this place. They also have one of 2 FEMALE Moai's which are much thinner and elongated than the classical Easter Island carvings. Very cool.

We then headed for the "7". In Ahu Akivi there are 7 Moai's which do not face their village but instead face the ocean! Why? Well, the king of some island in Polynesia was running out of food so he sent 7 of his mariners out to find new land to settle. The fruits of their labour was Rapa Nui and to commemorate their efforts, when the king arrived on the island to settle it, he had 7 Moai's carved in their honour, facing the sea. These are the ONLY 7 that face the sea.

We spent the rest of the day exploring and getting our clothes covered in the red dust that is Rapa Nui's dirt :)

We left Rapa Nui on day 8 and this is just a snap of the japanese place we had dinner at on Day 7. It was overpriced but it was pretty tasty.

permalink written by  yungwesl on January 13, 2009 from Hanga Roa, Chile
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Day 9 - Santiago

Santiago, Chile

We got into Santiago in the evening of Day 8 and nothing much to report. We found a cheap place to eat - sort of fast food called SchopDog and then slept.

We got up on Day 9 and headed for the subway. By the way, the Sheraton sucks for free services. No free internet, not free water. They suck. 3500 pesos for water? Are you nuts? We bought the same amount of water at the supermarket for 419 pesos! Food? Want some dinner? Yeah shell out buddy. Anyways, I digress, we caught a subway downtown and walked around. We found a cool colonial home which contains the very first elevator in Santiago. Too bad it was closed for tours.

The architecture in Santiago is quite amazing. Lot's of Spanish/European design and many many many churches. 90% of this country is roman catholic. Oh I should also mention that Chileans love to make out. Like harsh make out. Imagine from here on in that EVERY photo I have probably has couple somewhere near harsh sucking tongue.

We sent out our post cards today as well since the central post office is not only gorgeous but also functional. You buy stamps outside from street vendors (??) and then send out the cards inside. We had some guy come by and ask us if we were Japanese, this has happened a few times now :)

After shipping out the post cards in the Plaza de Armas, we headed through the wonderful shopping areas and decided to try a Rice Mote Con Huessilos Heladito. It's like some kind of barley mixed with a peach juice with chunks of peach. Very refreshing!

We had a lunch/snack/dinner in the Mercado which is a huge fish market full of fresh fish - a la Pike Place Market - but with lots of tables in the middle. There were MANY very pushy people trying to get us to eat at their restaurant. Everywhere we went we were ushered to tables. What was funny after wandering around the entire complex was that ALL the restaurants actually belonged to one of two places. It was either place A or place B but they had "micro restaurants" all over which belonged to team A or B. Messed up. Regardless they had lots of fish including Chilean sea bass, too bad they don't know how to cook it. What a waste of a good fish.

We completed our day hiking up Cerro Santa Lucia which is the "hill" in the middle of central Santiago. There's a church at the top as well as a viewpoint. I'd like to call this hill "make-out hill" but considering people make out EVERYWHERE the name has little meaning. I think I'll conclude today that the Chilean national pastime is to find some shade and stick your tongue down someone's throat. To this, Chileans excel.

Make love not war. :)

permalink written by  yungwesl on January 15, 2009 from Santiago, Chile
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