A Travellerspoint blog

March 2016

Mendoza: Argentinian wine country

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View Getting to know Chile on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

I took the overnight bus from Viña del Mar across the border back into Argentina to visit Mendoza. The border crossings are really quite something, they take a crazy amount of time, and it's unclear why, and this wasn't the most fun way to spend nearly two hours at 2am. However, we arrived in Mendoza early, at 5am!

I took a taxi to my hostel and was allowed to crash on the sofa there until breakfast time. I booked my wine tour for the next day, choosing the bike and wine tour.

I would never ordinarily condone drinking and driving but this had been recommended by a few people so sign up I did. They say you are going to ride 20km over the day; it might have been the wine, but I'm fairly sure we didn't go that far! They day consists of 5 wineries of various sizes and clout in the industry, and we cycled between them.

It was a hot day, and I was glad for the bike creating a breeze, wind through my hair and all that. The wines were all tasty, I wish I could remember some good wine facts, but we heard about and studied (a.k.a tasted) all kinds of wines - dry white, sweet white, sparkling white, dry red, fruitier red, sparkling rosé.

That was the main thing I did in Mendoza as it was really too hot in the city. It's a nice city, but February was the wrong time to visit as it's exceptionally warm, so it's somewhere to come back to another time!

Posted by Rebecca Heller 16:35 Archived in Argentina Tagged wine Comments (0)

Valparaiso and Viña del Mar: street art and beach


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I made it to Valparaiso early the next morning. I was excited for this stop as I'd heard great things about this city. When I found my hostel, I was greeted by a hostel guest that I'd apparently woken up (sorry!) as the staff member on duty had popped out! I spent the morning pottering around the city, getting lost in all the little lanes and stair wells just taking it in before heading to the square for the afternoon Tours 4 Tips walking tour.

I think this was my favourite walking tour I've done. They cover both historical significance of Valparaiso and the more contemporary street art scene. We heard about different artists, symbols in their work, we even met one of the artists, the art really makes the city special. It's such an integral part of the city that artists move there for the art and opportunities there.

We were told about the Terremoto drink, a white wine based concoction, with additional grenadine and pineapple ice cream for extra sweetness. Terremoto means earthquake in Spanish, and it is named that way because people apparently walk like there's an earthquake happening, after they've drunk it. I can neither confirm nor deny the truth in that...

I made the mistake of staying only one night in Valparaiso and had booked a night in Viña del Mar, the seaside city which is really only half an hour away. If I did it over again, I would stay in Valpo and commute to Viña for the beach. It's not that Viña isn't nice, it is, but it's also a city built as a holiday beach destination, so it lacks the charm that fills Valparaiso. The beaches were lovely though.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 16:34 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Pucón: climbing Chile's most active volcano


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My next stop was Pucón. My bus arrived a little late, so when I got to the hostel, the first thing the staff asked was did I want to climb volcano Villarrica the following day, and if so I needed to sign up right then. This had been recommended by people I'd met, so when I was advised that this could be my only day to climb, I signed myself up.

The 6.30am safety briefing was fairly intense, I started to wonder if perhaps I should have thought this through a little. They provide you with ice boots and a backpack full of gear for the climb, including an ice pick. It had been a while since I studied geography and I hadn't really considered that climbing a volcano meant climbing on ice, something I'm definitely not used to!

When you arrive at the volcano you have the choice to take the chair lift or walk, I followed advice from other travellers to get the ski lift and conserve energy for later. I'm pretty glad I did that as I did need a lot of energy for the next bit of the climb!

Walking on ice is very hard work and I was in all honesty nervous when walking on the ice, but the views at each rest point make it worthwhile. It's spectacular and we had a clear day so we could see far and wide. I might have had a little slip once on the way up, but otherwise made it up there slowly but surely.

When you get near the top, we split into smaller groups as not everyone can be at the summit at once. You're not allowed to spend too much time up there since Villarrica is an active volcano, to be precise it's the most active volcano in Chile, and so there are poisonous fumes up there. Thankfully, the levels of dangerous gases were deemed low enough that I did not need to wear the gas mask up there. We were lucky enough to see some real life lava from the crater, it's apparently rare, and before we knew it, we were being herded back down to prepare for the descent.

They've really taken advantage of the fact that ice is slippery and dug chutes or slides in the ice, making this the most fun and also the quickest way to get down an icy volcano. I may have constantly been slowing myself down with the ice pick, but it was pretty funny.

I was also glad to make it to the bottom though. I had a great experience, and am really glad I didn't overthink it before I signed up, otherwise I may not have actually done it and that would have been a crying shame!

Pucón itself is super small and extremely touristy so I went out of town on the next two days. I went for a day hike in the national park on the Sendero Tres Lagos with two girls who did the volcano climb with me, and to some hot springs with a group from my hostel. Both were relaxing days following a tiring volcano climb!

The day of the hot springs was lovely until my journey back. I had allowed 4 hours to leave the hot springs, travel for an hour and have 2 hours to eat and get ready for my bus up to Valparaiso.

Unfortunately, there's one road in and out of Pucón and most of Chile seemed to be driving on it that evening. I was convinced I was going to miss my bus, and the journey back took nearly 4 hours. When we finally arrived in Pucón, I had 15 minutes to make it back to my hostel, pick up my bags and leg it to the bus station which was about 10 minutes away. I made it with about 3 minutes to spare! Unfortunately I had not had time to make my food and I was on a 12 hour overnight bus journey so dinner consisted of nuts and raisins, but I had made my bus!

Posted by Rebecca Heller 16:28 Archived in Chile Tagged springs volcanoes Comments (0)

The journey through Chile: Puerto Varas and Valdivia


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I hadn't really planned much of my journey through Chile. I just knew I had three weeks to get from Bariloche, Argentina into Santiago de Chile, and that I wanted to travel up the Chilean side.

I took recommendations from my new Chilean friends and other travellers and ended up loving my stops on the way. My first stop across the border was Puerto Varas.

Puerto Varas
I had been advised to stay here rather than bigger Puerto Montt (the port to pick up a Patagonia cruise that takes you to the end of the world!). It was a pretty town, full of Chileans on holiday, which felt like a seaside town, although the beaches were on lakes, not the sea. The lake is the perfect spot to catch the beautiful view of the snow capped Osorno volcano.

I stayed for two nights in a small family run hostel called Compass del Sur. On the first evening I wandered into town following my dinner and ended up at the main plaza where there was a free concert for the Feria de las Rosas.

Now I didn't know who was playing, but it seemed as though the whole of Puerto Varas had come out to see this free concert, and they clearly knew the artists since men, women, boys and girls were singing along, the only ones present but not joining in were tourists (that would be me) and the babies in their parents' arms, headphones on.

I later found out it was Nene Malo on stage, an Argentinian singer, famous all around Latin America.

I also went rafting in Puerto Varas (it was much cheaper than in Bariloche). We went in two rafts down a grade 3/4 river. We were unable to go the full way that the company used to go since the roads are still blocked from a volcanic eruption last year. If we had continued as before, apparently we'd have to raft for 8 hours more to reach a point where the roads were accessible again. So instead, we stopped for a chance to jump into the river.

Now I'm not particularly scared of heights, but jumping off them into fast moving water is rather contrary to my nature so I initially chickened out of jumping. I did eventually pluck up the courage to take the plunge, and it was actually pretty fun, and not that high up. As a well done treat I did purchase an ice cream back in Puerto Varas, from a place recommended by the hostel, guide books and the long long queue of people.

Valdivia
I was planning to skip Valdivia altogether but the friends I made in Bariloche suggested I really should stop if I could. I'm really pleased I stopped in, although I was only there for 24 hours, I really liked the vibe in this city.

I stayed in the cool hostel my friends recommended called Aires Buenos. Although it was a Monday when I arrived, and most state run museums are closed on Mondays, I decided to visit the various islands there. First I went to see the fort, then walked back to the port to catch the ferry over to Isla Corral. By this point is was getting a little late and chilly so I just visited the old fort, watched the historical reenactment and hopped back on the ferry. It's a shame I didn't explore more, but I do think I got a good taste of what's there.

I met fun people at the hostel and a small group of us went for a nighttime stroll to some recommended bars. Being a Monday night, it was not a crazy evening, but it was nice to meet some interesting characters and exchange travel stories, tips and tricks.

The next day I had a few life admin missions to complete before I went exploring further. I had realised as I left Puerto Varas that I no longer had my raincoat. I'm still not 100% sure where I left it, but I have a feeling it ended up somewhere in no man's land between the Argentinian and Chilean borders. Chilean border control check absolutely every piece of luggage so it likely got lost in the moving of bags.

So the next morning I set off to find a new rain coat. It turns out, that whilst Chile is cheaper than the UK in many aspects, food, transport, adventure activities and more, it is not cheaper for clothes, especially not outdoorsy clothes. There is an abundance of shops with rain coats costing a mere £80 or so, so I landed up purchasing a fetching fluorescent yellow get up that was on sale!

My second big task was to find somewhere to fix my hiking boots. It seems that landed both feet in a river is not so good for hiking boots - see the post named 'Hiking the W at Torres del Paine' for more details on that incident! After a fair bit of asking around, I found a small little shoe repairs place who charged me only £4 to sew the sole back to the boot, which seemed like a much better plan than £90-£200 on a new pair!

After that I was able to go for a wander, back onto one of the islands for a trip to the botanical gardens which is on the university campus. I also visited the museum of contemporary art for a bit of culture. I didn't spend much time in the city, but I liked this environmentally-aware, cool, student city that felt like people lived and grew up there, rather than being there simply for work.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 16:12 Archived in Chile Tagged islands volcanoes Comments (0)

Bariloche: chocolate in the Lake District

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After my adventures in Patagonia, I headed to Bariloche, a popular holiday destination in the Argentian Lake District.

This city is full of artisanal chocolate shops, most of which have gelaterias inside too. As you can imagine, I was in heaven since chocolate and ice cream are two of the best things in life, and I was still pretty tired after my southern adventures so this was a perfect way to unwind.

I stayed in Hostal Pudu, a small and super friendly hostel not far from the busy streets, with a view of one of the lakes. There I met two students from Santiago who were taking a short break there. I ended up spending the next day with them going to sunbathe on the lake beaches and wander around town.

The following day I agreed to go on a day hike up by Cerro Catedral (the main skiing spot in winter). I did not do my homework, so was unaware we were headed for a 24km day hike, but that we did, 12km up the mountain to the glacial lake, and another 12km down. Compared to the hikes I had just done it was very manageable; it was pretty, but not as stunning when compared to my views just days before.

I can imagine it feels very different in the winter when Bariloche is packed with skiers, perhaps it's somewhere to come back to in winter...

Posted by Rebecca Heller 04:44 Archived in Argentina Tagged lakes chocolate hike Comments (0)

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