XXXXXIII – Several ugly days in Santiago! But one perfect day, one perfect moment in Valparaiso!

Santiago, Santiago, Saaaaaanntiaaaagoooooooooo!!

You could almost sing Luis Mariano’s song “Mexico”, and replace it with the word “Santiago” (French people will immediately understand what I mean)… Firstly, both words end with “o”, thus it’s easy. Secondly, Santiago is the first city where I encountered so many religious, crazy people with megaphones screaming passages of the bible in the streets. And, the song do states that under the sun, people become crazy [“Sous le soleil de Mexico, On devient fou,…”] but the comparison stops there!

At the time, Santiago sounded like a decent plan, sounded bueno (good) to me. But, uh, turns out it was no bueno (not good) at all. It was probably the ugliest city I’ve been so far! Such a shame when you see these amazing buildings abandoned, the facades tagged with graffiti, and garbage all over the streets! This city needs a good spring clean!

And, unfortunately, I stayed in a dorm where a f%!£# stupid dumb idiot guy had his alarm clock set to ring every hour from 3am till 9am!! And, the worse was he slept through it, and woke up at 10am for breakfast!! Why one set his alarm clock at 3am to wake up at 10am?!? Someone needs to explain this to me…

But, I am being pessimistic… everything was not all bad, there were a few ups: watching chess games on the plaza, eating seafood in the central market, drinking Starbucks coffee on a sunny terrace, watching men getting their shoes shine and my day trip to Valparaiso (seaside port; literally translated as “Valley Paradise”) with an Australian girl named Camille.

In Valparaiso, we found this cozy boat-shaped restaurant where we spent the whole day chatting, drinking great wine, eating amazing dishes and listening to good music. One of these rare perfect moments in life where it feels like time stands still, where you just live in the moment (the past is left behind & the future is set aside), where all that matters is the people you’re with and the conversation you’re having. It was a perfect day, a perfect moment!!

In the end, I wished I had stayed longer in Paradise Valley (Valparaiso) instead of Hell Valley aka Santiago!! But, I don’t possess a magic crystal bowl and can’t predict how things are going to turn out… so my choice to spend several days in Santiago was a bad choice. But I have no regrets! Now, I know better (for next time). 🙂

ps: Happy Mother’s day Mom!! Love you!! Miss you!!

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XXXXXII – A-R-G-E-N-T-I-N-A, the country’s recap!!

I remember looking forward to fly out of Asia and travel in South America. I was so exited, I kept talking about the south american countries, imagining what I would do, try, see,… I just couldn’t wait to discover Argentina. I was like a kid who can’t wait to open her Christmas’s present! And my “Argentina present” was like any gifts, sometimes it brings joy and other times, disappointment!

I liked:

  • Drinking red wines!! I can’t even remember the last time I sipped a  bottle (I meant 😉 ) one small glass of red wine. Thus, it was long overdue 😉
  • Meeting Willy and Maria after so many years, was awesome! They are both incredible people with big hearts that immediately made me feel welcome to their home!! Thank you again!! And, COME TO BELGIUM SOON!!!
  • Beautiful, breath-taking panoramic views everywhere you go. Such an incredible country!
  • Wild life in Patagonia; SEA LIONS are the most adorable creatures!!
  • Meat, pasta, meat, pizza, meat, lasagna, meat, Meat, MEAT!!!
  • Asians made me feel like a tall and ugly zoo animal, but Argentinians did a pretty good job at boosting my woman’s ego!! LOL.

I disliked:

  • A sprained ankle was an unexpected and totally unwelcome pain!! Grrrr…
  • Food, hostels, national park entrance fees, buses,…. well basically, everything was so expensive! Consequence: I went a bit over budget 😦  Oh well, you only live once, right?
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XXXXXI – It’s time to rest and heal in Bariloche, city of chocolate!!

View from the hostel

I spent most of my time in this hostel called Penthouse 1004, located on the top floor of an old building [not exactly the place where you would expect a hostel!]. After several crappy hostels, I was so glad to have found this hostel. The kitchen was really big and clean, and there were several ingredients at our disposal. It was such a nice kitchen that I actually did some cooking: pasta, soups and a delicious Chili con carne!! The living room had comfy sofas where I spent hours lying down, and looking out over incredible views of the city and the lakes. It was the perfect place to drop my bags and chill for a couple of days.

Rapa Nui, best chocolate in town!

Inside counter…. some tough choices had to be made!!

c-h-o-c-o-l-a-t-e!!

……..The city is mostly famous for its chocolates and Swiss-style architecture. There are chocolate shops at almost every corner. It’s almost like being home… I said almost because Belgium is still Number 1 in my heart!! And Belgium Chocolate is the best in the world!!! But the next best thing is the Argentinean’s chocolate 😉

The municipality building

After a couple of days resting at the hostel, I was ready to wander the streets of Bariloche, and have a look at the city’s famous architecture. It did feel like being in Switzerland with all the beautiful wooden chalets. And, for once the sun was out, thus perfect days!!

The main plaza.

And, at my hostel, I met the nicest Swiss couple, Sandra and Daniel. We hiked together up to Cerro Campaniaro, a 360° with a magnificent view over the mountains and lakes! I was really happy I made it up to the top and my ankle was not hurting, and even happier that the hike up was so worth it!! The view was amazing!!

Bariloche, the 7 lakes district

Me, Sandra and Daniel

On the way back to the hostel, we bought some chocolate, had a nice afternoon snack and a great talk about our lives back at home, our personal and professional experiences.

Cerro Campaniaro View

Usually, I meet people (for an hour or several days) and we exchange our travel experiences, give some tips about the country (nice hostels, great excursions,…) and have a small chat about our lives/our hometown. There is never an awkward moment as there is always at least one subject, interest or passion in common.

Always a cross at the top of the mountain!

………………………..But this time was different. When I listened to Sandra’s life story, it was as if she was talking about my life! It was as if she understood exactly what was going on in my life and were I was standing… We had so many similar stories about work issues, friends events (buying apartments, getting married and having babies), and family events. The connection was instant and I was really sad that our paths were separating the next day.

Another shot of the 7 lakes district

The next day, I had bought some chocolate as a present for our last afternoon tea break, and they had a surprise for me as well: a brand new ankle bandage! Again, did I mentioned that they were the best couple ever!

My time in Bariloche was up, and me and my ankle, were ready to go back on the road for more adventures! Next destination: Santiagoooooooo, Chile.

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XXXXX – “Why didn’t I go to Japan?” was the question I asked myself on the bus to Bariloche.

Traveling alone has a long list of advantages! The best advantage is that you can set your own agenda, meaning no compromises, no arguments, no debate, no negative vibes from others. You can be spontaneous without accounting for anyone else’s feelings. You never have to feel pressured to do something you don’t want to do. On the contrary, you can go wherever you want, whenever you want, and with whomever you want. Even more so since I don’t have flights tickets booked in advance. Basically, you can travel in your own terms!

Road to Bariloche…

But solo travel has also its downs. Solo travel means also that you’re always making all the decisions yourself. You have no one to share your thoughts, to talk about your plans, to have a second opinion or to help you figuring out things. It’s just you talking to yourself (not a great debate by the way 😉 ).

And truth is, when you are traveling, there are so many things to thing about, so many things to decide, so many unanswered questions going through my head on a daily basis (“Where is the bus station? Which bus company should I choose? Is it worth spending 3 or 5 days in Bariloche? Should I take a cab or the local bus? Is it safe? Should I go further South or North? Where is located the hostel? What should be my next city? Which itinerary is the best? What? where? when?….”) that I sometimes wished I had someone besides me, telling me what to do.

And that was my precise state of mind in El Calafate, Argentina. I was hurt, and I knew I needed a place to stay for a couple of days, to rest my ankle. But I didn’t know what was the best option: taking a flight to Santiago (Chile), returning by bus to Puerto Natales and from there take a boat that navigates through the Chilean fjords, take a bus back to Buenos Aires or take a bus up North of Argentina?!? There were just too many options!! And, I couldn’t decide what I should do… until I read about all my options in the Lonely Planet, gathered info on the prices for each option and then slept on it.

Watching the sunset from the bus

Final decision: the plan was to go by bus to San Carlos de Bariloche, usually known as Bariloche, the lake district and the city of chocolate! I could already see myself laying down on the sofa, reading a good book and eating chocolate all day long. Besides, hasn’t it been proved scientifically that chocolate has multiple health benefits?!? Among them, curing a bad twisted ankle… I believe so… 😉

Me, Erika and Chigusa.

So, here I was trying to survive to this thirty six(ish) 36 hours long bus ride when I met the two sweetest Japanese girls, Chigusa and Erika. They didn’t speak much English, but somehow we understood each other. And boy, did we laugh together (about the food, the movies, the bus driver, our traveling experiences,…) !! They were traveling together around South America for a couple of months.

My Japanese Doll 🙂

They couldn’t believe that I was traveling all alone… so they gave me a present that should protect me from bad people! It was a small stuffed doll, hand-made by their grandmother with threads from old clothes ! They insisted that I attached the doll to my small bag, so that it will keep me safe during my journey! So sweet and thoughtful!!!

Ugh…. Why again didn’t I go to Japan??? [One more unanswered question going through my head].

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XXXXIX – A chocolate brownie, a “Perito Moreno” glacier and Me!

Since I had booked in advance a bus from Puerto Natales to El Calafate, I had no choice but to hit the road… even though I much needed rest after my ankle “incident” in Torres del Paine. So, I was heading to El Calafate, a small mountain town with many tourist travel agencies, souvenir shops, car rental shops, small supermarkets, restaurants, bars and ONE little French-style bakery selling pastries, croissants, brownies, cakes,… Basically, the town revolves around tourist attractions to nearby glacier called Perito Moreno!

The Perito Moreno glacier is located 78 km from the city, El Calafate. It was named after the scientific/explorer/pioneer Francisco Moreno (19th century), who studied the geography of the region & defended the territory in the international border conflict with Chile. He was a local hero, so I guess locals thought he deserved to have the largest glacier in the area named after him. Why a glacier and not a lake or a mountain? Don’t ask. I don’t have the answer to that one (yet 😉 )!

Anyway, the day before my tour to the glacier, I went to the bakery and bought myself a big chocolate brownie!!! My little treat for the next day 😉 With a bottle of water and THE brownie in my backpack, I was all set to observe the famous Perito Moreno glacier!

On the D-day, I just stood hours and hours watching the front of the glacier, completely in awe!! The color seemed at times white, at times a surreal blue! The Martial glacier in Ushuaia was nothing compared to this massive glacier! It seemed close enough to touch with your hands…

The Perito Moreno glacier is 5 km wide, with an average height of 55 m above the surface of the water of Lake Argentino. It has a total ice depth of 14 km and it’s actually moving about 2 meters a day! The ice wall is fissured and jagged in some places, full of small crevices and cliffs!

Suddenly I would hear a thunderous roar, water running through the crevices, and then a loud crack (like a gunshot or a cannon). In the sun, parts of the ice wall was melting, breaking and finally dropping into the L-shaped “lago Argentina”, in a very loud, spectacular way!

In the end, it was one of this perfect sunny day! I spent hours watching this natural phenomenon and waiting to see these “dramatic” cracks and crashes! It was just me, a delicious chocolate brownie and a beautiful “Perito Moreno” glacier. A perfect day!

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XXXXVIII – The “w” trek in Torres del Paine ended being an “i” trek!

From Ushuaia, I head up North to Puerto Natales, in Chile. The town in itself has not much to offer, but it’s the jumping off point to Torres del Paine National Park, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. It’s supposed to be one of the most pristine and remote places on earth with some of the world’s most amazing trekking!

Cute road signs all over town!

Colourful little town!!

Boat navigating from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt.

Statue of the Milodon, a giant prehistoric animal that lived in the caves nearby Puerto Natales.

Snow-capped mountain peaks viewed from the sea port.

6,000 years ago, people didn’t wear any clothes (just stood by the open fire). They would paint their body with large stripes!

Magnificent view from the sea port!

View of the famous “torres” (towers) of the national park.

………The most highly trekked route in Torres del Paine National Park is called the “W”. It takes five to seven days, with five to eight hours of hiking per day!

The “W” name comes from the trail that basically is the shape of the letter W. You walk up and down out of 3 mountain valleys. And, you end up the trek with an amazing view on the “Torres del Paine” (the towers). This trek is considered as a lifetime experience!

On the bus to Puerto Natales, Michael and I, met 2 french girls (South of France), Dorothée and Cécile. After settling in our hostel, the four of us went to the “Erratic Rock Bar”, where an information session about the famous “W” trek was given everyday at 3pm.

Our tent

They cover transportation in and out of the park, what to pack in terms of food and gear, weather conditions and finally, trails. No need to pack bottles of water as you can drink straight from the streams and falls! They also rent tents, sleeping bags/mats and camping stoves.

Hopping on the catamaran!

The bus into the park was 2.5 hours, and dropped us off at a catamaran that takes you to the start of the “W”. The first hike was to Lago Grey; a 11 km/5.5 hours uphill hike to see the beautiful Glacier Grey. As we began to climb with our heavy backpacks on our shoulders, we faced all kinds of weather: sun, clouds, wind, snow, blizzard, rain. The weather seemed to change constantly, in a matter of minutes!

View from the entrance of the national park.

Unfortunately, a big part of the park was burned down!

Beginning of the trek to Grey Glacier. Me and Dorothée 🙂

…….And then, the unthinkable happened! I twisted my right ankle when I slipped on a rock… I heard the distinct crunching/cracking sound, and immediately after, the pain kicked in hard.

Small bridge! Only one person can cross it at a time.

………………….At that moment, if I were alone, I would probably have started screaming and crying! But instead, I swallowed my saliva, took a deep breath, and washed away my teary eyes! After a couple of minutes, I regain composure and was able to walk on the tip of my toe. I had no choice but to continue, as we were in the middle of nowhere, and it was about to get dark. With the help of Dorothée, we continued up and up until we reached the campsite, Las Guardas. [sight of relief and exhaustion].

Dorothée, Cécile and Michael.

That night I didn’t sleep much because I was in pain and freezing cold! Sleeping in a tent when it’s -7°C outside… bad idea!! I woke up feeling sore from sleeping on the hard ground, and my whole body was aching! Not to mention my ankle, which was killing me!!

Me in front of the Grey Glacier.

The Grey Glacier.

Incredible blue colour!

…………………………………………………….But I am happy I got the chance to see the famous Grey glacier before heading back down from where we had come! From our campsite, Las Guardas, there was a viewpoint on the bright blue glacier that flows into the water. You could see also many small icebergs on the lago Grey that looked like neon islands. So beautiful!

Panoramic view of the Grey glacier! Stunning!

So, my trek was shorter than planned, I did a “i” trek instead of a “w” trek. Moreover, I was now injured and in constant pain!

I guess they don’t call it Torres del PAINe for nothing!

Panoramic view of Torres del Paine.

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XXXXVII – Ushuaia, El fin del mundo, A dream come true for me!

I should start by saying that Ushuaia has been one of my dream destination for as long as I can remember! As a kid, I always wanted to go and see this magical place. I can’t explain exactly why this particular city out of all the cities in the world. Although my choice of a dream destination as a kid, might have something to do with the shower gel Ushuaia (which smells incredibly nice by the way) or the french TV show of Nicolas Hulot, named “Ushuaia Nature”…. I said might… It’s difficult to say what’s going on in a kid’s head and how associations of words are done?!? Anyway, the name stuck in my head over the years… and now here I was in USHUAIA!

Ushuaia is a small town of 60 000 people, located in Tierra del fuego, at the southern tip of the world (aka South of Argentina). After landing at the airport, I was ready to explore this land. I had 5 whole days to see glaciers, lakes, mountains, llamas and high snowy summits!

On my first day, I did what all tourists do here: take a picture with the huge sign saying “Ushuaia, fin del mundo”, and stamp my passport with “Fin del Mundo”! Well, by now you should understand that people here really embraced the nickname, “End of the World”, even though Puerto Williams (Chile) is a bit Southern than Ushuaia… Go figure!?!

…………………..My first hiking was with Michael (a German guy I met at my hostel) to the Martial glacier located on the heights of Ushuaia! From our hostel, we walked through the city, hiked up to the national park and once there, took a chair lift up the mountain.

…………………………There began all the treks to miradors that gave views of the Martial glacier, the whole city of Ushuaia, the Beagle Channel and the Chilean mountains in the background.

My first day in Tierra del Fuego was picturesque! Sunny and cold, but not freezing. Just perfect!

After our hike, we went for a late lunch to a nearby small, cute, English-style tea house where we had a big “sopa de lentejas” (lentil stew). With my heads still full of amazing panoramas, the lentils were immediately tasting another flavor!

The following day, Michael, Simone & Frank (a German couple met in our hostel) and myself, embarked on a 4-hours boat tour in the Beagle channel; the channel separates not only Argentina and Chile’s southernmost tip, but also the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean!

……………………………We traveled past several sea-lion and cormorants (birds) colonies and the lighthouse named “Les Eclaireurs” (the most photographed point of Ushuaia).

We ended the tour by stepping foot on one of the islands, where we learned more about the fauna, the flora and the Yámanas (were the first nomads to inhabit Ushuaia, about 6,000 years ago).

Interesting story: the Yámanas, who traveled by canoes between islands to collect food, wore little to no clothing despite the cold weather (really cold, trust my word)! They covered themselves in animal grease (sea-lion fat) and apparently they had a higher body temperature than we have today!?! But still, I wasn’t convinced by the explanation (I got more answers while visiting the Yámana museum).

The tour was definitely better than what I had expected, and I loved watching the sea lions jumping and flipping in the waves. They are so cute!

On our fourth day, I went with Michael and Jessy to “Laguna Esmeralda” located about 20km from Ushuaia, and its name comes from the color emerald of the lake! The hike in itself wouldn’t have been difficult if we hadn’t got lost a couple of times (due to little to no markups) and if we weren’t walking most of the time in the mud, literally up to our ankles!

………………….My boots are waterproof, so the hike would have been just fine if I had kept my eyes on the road instead of looking up at the surroundings! And that’s how I stepped my left foot in the muddy water almost up to my knee! Good job, Cristina!!

Regardless of the rain, the mud and being lost, it felt good to spent time in nature. My head was filled with images of beautiful scenery. The autumn colors were incredible. It was so beautiful that it was hard to believe that this was not a dream!! But I pinched myself a few times, and yes, it was real 😉 !

The last day in Ushuaia, as I previously said, I got some of my answers about the intriguing Yámana nomads. I went to visit the Yámana museum along with Simone and Frank.

Even though there were only 3 rooms, I thought the museum was quite educative and thorough. The first room explained how the map of the earth changed with the years. Having visuals really helped to understand it. It was concrete, real!

The second room had paintings and pictures of the 4 different tribes who lived in the Tierra del Fuego: the Kawéskar (Alacaluf), Shelk’nam (Ona), the Mánekenk (Haush) and the Yámana (Yágán). It was so interesting to read about the beliefs, traditions, habits of all these tribes, and what was their daily life back in the days.

………………..But my favorite room was the third and last one about the Yámanas! They did lived almost naked (still can’t understand how they did it when I was inside my hostel and still shivering under 5 blankets!), but got warmer around open fires, hence the name of “Tierra del Fuego” (Land of the Fire), given by the European explorers.

Moreover, Yámanas always kept a fire going inside the canoe! One would think that it’s a really bad idea to have an open fire inside a wood boat, but no. The canoe had so many leaks that it could never burned down in the fire. Besides, the canoe was the most prized possession of a Yámana family, so they took good care of it!

In the tribe, there was no chiefs, women were equal to men, and children lived with their parents until marriage, and only then could they have their own canoe! Men stayed mostly “at home” taking care of the kids and the house, while women went fishing and gathering mussels and crabs! Women were the only ones to know how to swim!

Unfortunately, most of the Yámanas were decimated by diseases brought by Western explorers. The missionaries decided to “civilize the savages”, persuaded them to put some clothes on, and shortly after the Yámanas became sick! [I couldn’t help thinking that evolution screwed up everything!].

“Ushuaia, fin del mundo, principio de todo”.

Ushuaia, end of the world, beginning of everything”.

” Ushuaia, el fin del mundo, a dream come true for me”.

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