Archive | January 2004

Did I mention that I love Argentina?

Did I mention that I have a dog now? Yup. His name is Sam. He lives on the corner of the street next to my hostel. He’s always there, hanging out (whether it be 3pm when I’m going to lunch or 3am when I’m going back to the hostel). I feed him empinadas when I see him.

And I’ve been resting. For the past several months, everyone that I have met has been telling me about Bariloche.

“It’s so awesome. Incredible chocolate, craft beer, windsurfing, rafting, hiking, trekking, mountain climbing, fishing, you name it!”

And I haven’t done anything – except eat the chocolate and drink the beer. Of course.

Why? I was tired. And still kind of am. I’ve been sleeping 12 hours a night and doing nothing all day and have been loving it. I get up, check email, get the paper, read the whole thing, drink mate (don’t worry, I will explain mate, pronounced mah-tehy, in a few paragraphs), maybe play pool or chat with the Argentinean guys in the hostel, meet up with this really cool girl Eugenia that I met for dinner (gotta love Buenos Aires girls) and get to bed really late. Or should I say early? No matter. The important thing is that I sleep in till noon the next day and do it all over again. I’m also eating for like 10 pesos a day. That’s about 3.5 bucks. My hostel costs 14 pesos a day. That’s about 5 bucks. You simply can’t beat it. I love Argentina!

How long can I keep this up? A few more days, at least. I leave South America pretty soon.

So what is mate? Philosophers have been asking that question for centuries. Actually – no they haven’t. You’re the first one (how does it feel to be the only one who doesn’t know?). Ya te digo.

It’s a very Argentinean custom which I have taken it upon myself to adapt, seeing as my kids will be half Argentinean. The herb mate is kind of like tea, except you pour it in a special cup or dried out gourd (called “un mate”) which you can get in about a million different styles and shapes. You pour the mate (the herb) in your mate (the cup) and then poor hot water in slowly so that it gets absorbed completely. From there, you insert a special straw/filter thing called a bombilla into the mixture and drink.

You get only about 2-3 sips before your out of water, so you put in some more from your thermos (Oh yeah, you have to have a thermos. Like everyone else here.) and pass the mate on to the next person in the group. Everyone takes turns drinking from the mate and passing it to the next person, and you continue until you suck the mate clean. Then you dump it out, add more and continue. When you are done, you leave the yierba (herb) in the cup so that the flavor can absorb into the wood (or gourd, or whatever your mate is made of). It’s really cool and really tasty. From what I gather though, most foreigners hate it. Not me. I can’t get enough of it. And I can’t explain it, but it makes me feel really good. I read on some website that it has some crazy ingredient or something which imparts “well-being”, which I don’t take much stock in, but I can’t argue with results. You can share with others or drink it by yourself and the best part is that it makes your whole mouth green! Oh no, wait. That’s the annoying part. Unless you like your mouth green. Do you like your mouth green?

So where to next? I don’t know yet. I’m really enjoying my time here right now.

Some time in the next few days, I will leave to Buenos Aires. Or Mar del Plata. Or Foz de Iguazu. But I don’t know when. That’s what’s great about this adventure. The only thing I have to do is keep traveling. Yeah, easy enough, no? Come to Argentina, see the sights, eat the food, meet the girls, talk with the people, drink some mate – and then tell me if it’s easy to leave.

Just stick to the plan, Casey. Just stick to the plan. You can do it.

Chillin’ next to a glacier

The glacier looked like an army. An army of ready and willing ice soldiers all standing at attention and ready for battle. Indeed, they were (and are marching). The El Calafate Glacier is advancing at about 3 meters a day. The ice stretches back as far as you can see, up the hill, into the mountain and into the clouds. The incredible weight of all the snow falling in the mountains piles and compacts, forming an unstoppable mass of jagged and cold energy.

As I stared in awe, the glacier rumbled and cracked – somewhere in the distance, out of sight, a huge tower of ice fell. Although I couldn’t notice, the glacier had inched forward. Roland and I had just gotten off the tour boat which takes you very close to the glacier to see it from the water level (we saw several of the towers fall into the water right in front of us), and went to the terraces to watch the glacier from a little higher up. It was very, very impressive. Roland and I wandered around for a while, ate lunch, chatted with some girls from Buenos Aires (who were nearly as impressive as the glacier, I might add) and eventually wandered back to the tour bus to go back to the main part of town. I got the incredible opportunity to sit next to a stinky French guy on the way back and I think I blacked out a few times (so I was back before I knew it).

We got some coffee with some German guys we met, chatted and then headed back to our trashy hostel. Right now it is vacation season for Argentinians and we couldn’t find a decent place so we ended up staying in this bar/hostel (although I didn’t ask if I could get a discount if we paid by the hour – as I’m sure we could have). We had walked into several places that were booked full and suddenly, $15 pesos didn’t seem so bad ($5 a night, which is a little high, but oh well) – except for the toilet that would spray water out two feet in front of it when you flushed (Everyone got sprayed at least once). We spent our days in El Calafate playing chess, shopping for stuff (I got all the stuff to drink Mate, which is an Argentinian herb that you have to drink in a special way), and eating. Several times for dinner, we went to an all you can eat buffet for $15 pesos (so yeah, you could get your money’s worth after a slice of pizza) and it was a pretty cool place. The first night, the power went out in the middle of dinner and everyone started clapping and singing to get the owners to bring out candles.

Roland cleaned out the clothes from his backpack and sold them to the owner for three nights of lodging. The owner only wanted two shirts for two nights and when Roland tried to talk him into another night, the owner pointed at the sweater he was wearing, so he took it off and gave it to him. It was pretty funny. He had to get rid of stuff so that he wasn’t over the weight limit when he flew to Ushuaia, then Buenos Aires, then back home to Switzerland.

We ended up playing one more game of chess after that over dinner (we ended up meeting two Israelis and chatting with them while we played) and the game lasted close to three hours. I am getting better, but I still haven’t been able to beat him. No worries – I found a website online where we can play from a distance. I will win. I will.

So anyways, I hopped on a plane yesterday and am now in Bariloche. It is a nice kickback place and my feet and knee are slowly recovering. I’m a little tired (exhausted) from the past few months of running from place to place so I may stay here for a few days and do nothing. It will be nice.

Although…I may have to cancel that very important business meeting my secretary lined up for me tomorrow morning…Oh no, wait – I don’t have a job. Or a secretary.

Torres del Pain(e)

“What are you doing??? You…can’t break the spaghetti in half. That’s criminal.”, screamed Roland in a thick Swiss German accent.

“Yeah but, dude”, I replied in a thick Californian accent, “We only have so much gas. And we can’t boil a whole pot full of water.”

And with that, I cracked the spaghetti and threw it in the pot. Roland looked disturbed. But hey, camping in the middle of the forest with one can of gas requires sacrifices, you know?

So how did I get in the middle of the forest with a can of gas, you may ask? Well, I’ll tell you – just calm down for a second and let me write.

It all started several days before (imagine a harp playing that music when people think about a story they are going to tell as they look up at the bubble over their head).

We were going to the famous Torres del Paine, which is a beautiful Chilean national park and it has a really cool circuit that you can walk with spaces provided to camp at along the way. We were so there. But, I needed hiking boots, a tent, a stove, and some pots to cook food in. And lots of food. Our plan was a four day hike. And we would be walking about seven to ten hours a day. Not too bad. So we walked around town after arriving to Puerto Natales on the Navimag boat (you may recall my post about my four day cruise through Patagonia) and rented our stuff. When we split the cost, it wasn’t too bad and before long, we were all ready to go. We bought our bus ticket and would be leaving the following morning, so we went and got our food. Lots of pasta was bought. Along with chocolate, fruit, bread, and meat (which the frozen vegetables and canned fruit we were going to freeze that night would keep cold for a few days in the backpack). I also bought a mini, magnetized chess board so Roland and I could play chess at a moment’s notice.

So we slept well that night and before we knew it, the next morning we were off to the park. After a two hour ride, we arrived and went to take a look at the first lookout point as we waited for the boat which would take us across the lake (where we would start the hike). It had some pretty incredible views and the first thing we realized was that it was going to be very windy. We took turns taking pictures of each other leaning into the wind while it supported all of our weight (it was really cool). I also noticed a slight discomfort in my boots. I didn’t realize that this discomfort was just a taste of what was to come, however…

So the boat took us across the lake. And like I said, it was very windy. At one point, the wind picked up the boat several meters and slammed it back down, and two seconds later, everyone else landed back in their seats with a thud. I think the boat had almost flipped – and yeah, the captain slowed down after that.

So we arrived to the shore, hiked to the first camp, ate some lunch and then started on a trail to see Glacier Grey, which was about two hours away. We were to go see it then turn back around, come back to the camp and continue in the other direction (the trail is kind of like a big “W”, which means you have to turn around a lot). The good news, however, was that we could leave our bags at the camp, which made things faster. We walked and walked and contemplated the beauty of the park. It really is incredible. At one point, we saw a lake nestled next to the trail which was elevated above the land around it. It looked like a swimming pool, and the wind was so strong that it created waves like the ocean – which really throws your mind for a loop because you don’t expect to see stuff like that on a lake (let alone a small one like that). It was almost like something out of the Lord of The Rings (which I saw in Cordoba) and I half expected to see some wizard standing at the front of the lake commanding it to get all wavy (I think that’s a word). Or maybe Moses from the bible standing at the shore just before he commanded the sea to part. But nope. I didn’t see either. Just wind. Did I mention that the wind was strong?

So anyways, we saw the glacier, which was cool and then headed back. My feet were really hurting at this point and I inspected the damage when we arrived back to our backpacks. Two big blisters on the back of my foot. Damn. This is going to complicate things. I put on another pair of socks and we continued on (with me kind of hobbling). Only four more days to go, mentioned Roland.

We arrived at our first camp (Italiano) and made some dinner. Spaghetti. And now we come to the noodle breaking fiasco of 2004. Yes. We must break the spaghetti. It has to fit in the pot. And we ate really well. Pasta, soup, fruit, wine and we slept well too. The tent served perfectly.

So we woke up early and headed towards Britain camp to check out the lookout point (you ascend quite a bit). And my feet really hurt bad. The blisters were really sore and they chaffed my feet despite the three pairs of socks I now had on. We stopped and examined the damage of the trail. The shoe had a really bad design and I stuffed some stuff in the heel to keep it from chaffing my foot. It helped quite a bit, but the damage was already done. I was walking very funny. But it was easy to keep my mind off it, since the park is was beautiful. Roland ended up taking me off the trail (I wasn’t paying attention) and we scaled the side of a rock in front of an angry and raging river of melting glacier water, where I almost fell in.

“Man, that’s dangerous. I don’t see how people could make it over that without at least half falling in.”

“Oh, this isn’t the trail. I thought you noticed.”

“You asshole! I almost fell in!”, I replied and punched him in the shoulder.

“Haha”.

Damn Swiss.

We made it to the top and by then, I had twisted my knee from walking funny over the rocks. It really hurt on the way down and Roland went ahead to get the tent packed up so we could leave when I finally made it to camp. It took me a long time and when arrived, we set off. That part of the trail was supposed to take three hours and I think it took me close to four. I just kind of limped along, but the nice thing was that I was able to go very slow, not push myself and really take in all the beautiful scenery. Lots of lakes formed from melting glacier water (with that really cool wave effect from the wind), spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains, condors flying overhead, and when you got thirsty, you just stopped at a stream pouring down one of the mountains and filled up your water bottle with cool, crisp and refreshing glacier water. It was incredible.

When I limped into camp, Roland had the tent up already and we made dinner with some Swedish backpackers who were in the camp next to us. We chatted about stuff, then I took a shower. And damn it felt good. Roland played some guy chess (and lost), and then I headed to bed. I was going to have to decide in the morning if I wanted to continue the hike for another two days or just end it the next day (on account of my knee). I was hoping that it would heal in the night.

Well, it didn’t, but it wasn’t too bad so I decided I would continue. The day of hiking would include an ascent of over 1500 meters, where we would camp out at the base of the Towers (Las Torres), and continue up to watch the sunrise reflect red onto them the following morning. I went really slow and it took me a long time to make it to the camp. On the way, I met quite a few people from the boat and I got another really cool day of taking in all the beauty of the park. It took me many more hours than expected for the trail, but we still had time so we took a break and then continued on to the camp at which we would sleep for the night. That took me a long time too, and when I arrived, we made dinner and got ready for bed. We would need to wake up at 5:00AM to hike up the viewing point for the sunrise.

All I needed to do was brush my teeth. But where was all my stuff? Not in my bag. Not anywhere in the camp.

“Fuck, I left it in last camp”, I thought.

And in the bag of stuff I left was my retainer. I had a replacement made before I left the US, but it was many miles away and sending it in the mail when I am in no place for more than a few days would be nearly impossible. I would have to go back to the other camp in the morning and hope it hadn’t been thrown away. And that was a long ways away. And my knee was in really bad shape. And then I found the pain killers I had in my bag. I consulted a nurse from Germany I met on the trail. They would do the trick. Right on.

So in the morning, we watched the sunrise over the mountain and onto the towers (although it didn’t quite reach the towers completely), and then fought the wind and the rain back down to the camp. After packing up, we headed down the mountain and the painkillers really made the pain bearable. I was able to walk at a normal pace and we made it back to Camp Chileno an hour ahead of schedule. I had them call the other camp on the radio to see if anyone had found my stuff. No one had. And they burn the trash every day.

Damn. That sucks. But I have to go look anyways. It would be a very expensive loss if I lost it for good. And my teeth felt really grimy (my toothbrush was in the bag). So I headed off. I figured I could make it there in a few hours and back in time to catch the 8pm bus. Roland would carry my backpack down the mountain (because, as he reminded me many times, he has so many muscles) and he would go back to town on the 3pm bus and return the stuff we had rented. He would leave my backpack at the hostel at the base of the mountain. Right on.

I hiked and hiked and hiked and after five hours, I made it to camp. The pain killers were wearing off and my knee was hurting bad. And I was really really hungry. But before arriving to the camp, I noticed a small raft that was heading in the direction I was heading.

“Man…that would be cool if they could give me a ride back to the other camp. It would save 6 hours of hiking and my knee.”

I arrived drenched in sweat, found my stuff (It was in the trash and a girl that worked there had pulled it out), and begged the raft guy to take me back.

He looked at me sceptically as I explained my plight.

“So is there space?”

“Yeah, there is space. But what if something happens?”

“Please. I’ll will pay.”

And those where the magic words.

“We need to wait a little while for the wind to calm down. Don’t go too far.”

“HELL YEAH!”, I thought. I would get a boat trip over the lake, make it back in time for the 3pm bus with Roland and not have to kill my knee!

The next thing I knew, I was standing in front of the boat (which turned out to be a supply boat delivering food and beer to the hostel) as everyone looked at the huge waves on the lake. As we waited for an opportune moment to shove off, the captain wrapped a flimsy life vest around me and my backpack.

“Now!”, he shouted. And we all pushed the boat into the water and three of us jumped in and started paddling while the captain tried to start the motor.

“RRRRRRRRRRRR”, the motor started and we were off.

The waves were huge. The water cascaded into the boat and drenched me – I struggled to catch my breath from the shock.

Glacier water is very cold.

We dodged the waves and navigated in between them as we danced towards the middle of the lake.

The engine made a weird noise and cut out.

“What does that mean?”, I though. Me and the other guy started paddling to keep the boat straight (so we wouldn’t flip with the waves) as the captain pulled the motor onto the raft and pulled out his tools. I guess it happens a lot. And 15 minutes later, we were on our way again. It was a good thing too – my arms were getting really tired.

So we arrived to the other end of the shore, loaded up the boat in this little truck and headed off towards the camp. I wasn’t going to catch the 3pm bus – as I was a few minutes late, so I would have to wait around for five hours. When we arrived at the camp, I took out my wallet.

“How much do I owe you?”, I asked.

“How much will you pay?”, he replied.

I pulled out a 10,000 peso note and handed it over. $15 bucks. He took it quietly and put it in the ash tray. I said goodbye and we went our separate ways.

I limped around the camp looking for my bag and found it. And then I looked for food. Sandwiches cost $9 US, but I was to hungry to pass up the only opportunity for food I would have for many hours. As I was eating, I met some other travelers who were doing some overland trip they paid for over the internet. Apparently, some big truck takes 30 people all around South America for several thousands of dollars. They had to buy their own food, but the lodging was included in the cost (which entailed a tent, most nights). I think the company was making a pretty huge profit off of it, but I guess it would be good for people who thought just catching a bus from city to city and sleeping where you find space is a little too wild.

And then I took a shower. A long, hot, beautiful shower. And then I sat around for three hours. When I finally took the transport to the place that the bus picked us up, I sat around some more and drank some soda. It was really cold and windy and I was wearing some really thin rain pants since my jeans were wet from my water adventure early. It was really cold. But the bus finally arrived and I headed over to continue on to Puerto Natales.

And then I saw Nic! I met Nic on a bus in Peru two months prior and we went our separate ways in La Paz, Bolivia. He was trying to explain that he had to return a pot so he could get his drivers license back, but the problem was that the bus didn’t return to the place where he needed to do it, and he had to leave that night since he was out of money and his tent had been stolen (you got all that?). Stolen things are a rarity in this area and he had just been unlucky. He asked me for help and I explained the problem to the guys and we got a delivery of the license arranged to Puerto Natales the following morning at 6AM (We both doubted that it would show up at 6AM, but knew that it would probably show up in the next few days). So we hopped on the bus and got caught up on the past few months.

It’s really weird how that happens. How many things had to happen for us to meet back up at this place, at the same exact time. He had been trekking in the park too. It was really funny. We chatted and at the bus station split up, as we had different things to do, but we will probably run into each other again in New Zealand as we leave for there one day apart from each other (Feb 15 and 16). Roland had met several people he hadn’t seen for months on the trail and it’s really funny how it happens so often.

But anyways, Roland was standing at the bus station when I arrived and we joked around for a bit and walked to the rental place to return my boots. I was limping really bad and eventually just took them off and walked in my socks. It was much more comfortable. We turned them in (they didn’t charge me for the extra day on account of the pain the boots had brought me) and we checked our email and then headed back to the hostel to get some sleep after an exhausting day (I walked around town for several hours that night in only socks. It felt soooo good). In the morning, we would leave for El Calefate. We would have to get up early.

I slept really well that night.

Arrrrr, mateyyyyy!

Well, I just got done with a four day boat trip from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales (quite a distance if you want to check a map). Before that, I was in Valdivia, a small town right in between Pucón and Puerto Montt. I didn’t really do much there except walk around the city and take a little 45 minute boat trip up the side of the city. I made a pasta dinner and watched the owner of the hospedaje feed her dog by hand and then woke up early in the morning to catch the boat to Puerto Montt.

I must admit though, I was a little worried. I had sent a confirmation to the boat agency to reserve a spot, but hadn’t received a confirmation. So my options were to either not do the boat trip and just go to southern Chile by bus (a 30 hour marathon ride), and either take the boat back up to Puerto Montt (which would mean I wouldn’t have much time to see southern Chile), or just fly back up to Bariloche in Argentina from the El Calafate. So I hopped on the bus just hoping against hope that I would make it on the bus down…it would make things a whole lot easier.

So when I arrived, I headed straight for the Navimag office (check out http://www.navimag.cl/canales_patagonicos/cont_map.html if you want to see exactly what I did) and asked if there was any space. I was cutting it close. The bus was to leave in an hour and a half.

“Yes…”, she replied – “there is space, but only in the C berths”, which are the cheapest beds since they are just a bunch of dorm beds divided by walls (no doors, but for $275 bucks, all food included, what do you expect).

“Great!”, I replied – “that´s all I can afford.”

And I was on the boat in no time, awaiting my journey to begin. I was a bit disappointed though, as I didn’t see any rich, good looking girls (I was hoping to do something like my boy Leo did in Titanic, except without me dying at the end – you know, just drawing a girl like Rose naked and then sleeping with her), so that was a bit of a let down, but what can you do, you know?

Soon I was off and everyone got acquainted. The guides explained what we would be doing and we soon had dinner. The next few days were pretty uneventful though.

I met a Swiss guy named Roland and spent the entire trip trying to beat him at chess, but to no avail. They had movies in the afternoon and evening and on the final day, we had bingo – with jackets and stuff as prizes. It was pretty fun and relaxing, with beautiful scenery and to boot, and I think it was a much better alternative to sitting in a bus for 30 hours straight and not being able to move.

So now I am in Puerto Natales and I am getting ready to leave with Roland on a three or four day hiking trip to the Chilean national park called Torres del Paine, which is supposed to be stunning. We just got done renting our equipment (tent, stove, mattresses, etc…) and are gonna go get our food right now. So yeah, mom, dad, I wont be answering my emails for another four days or so.

Anyways, time to run. Hopefully, weather permitting, I will have some pretty awesome pictures for my next post!

The volcano… it´s erupting!!

Well, after a night on the bus, I ended up in Pucón. The service on the bus was the best yet as they provided food, blankets, pillows, a movie, a bathroom, and the staff was very attentive. I arrived to Pucón relatively refreshed and took upon the task of trying to find a hospedaje (a house in which someone has a few rooms rented out. I got a taxi (and soon realized that the town was so small that I didn’t really need to) and headed to my first pick. All full. Next. Nope. Next. 24,000 pesos?! Hell no. Next.

The door was open to the lobby but no one was there. It was about 8AM and I said hello a few times, but to no avail. Finally, a lady came out, but said she didn’t know how much it would cost a night and said there would be space at 11AM (The señora was sleeping). Yeah…well, I need to know how much it will cost if I´m going to stick around and eventually stay. And with that, the “señora” came out and told me it was 4000 pesos. Fair enough. I´ll sleep on the couch until the room is ready.

I met some Israelis in the lobby (and soon realized that all 30 people staying here were Israeli and had no desire to talk to me – who isn’t Israeli) and got a feel for the place. You can take a day hike up to the top of the volcano for 60 bucks. Cool. And then my room was ready. I got all settled in, took a shower and headed out on the town to get something to eat at the supermarket. I did just that and before I knew it, I had rented a bike and was headed to the base of the volcano to get a good picture. I wasn’t going to climb it…I didn’t have time. With one day in Pucón, you aren’t left with many options – and a $7 dollar bike rental seemed like a good idea. It was only 15 kilometers there, but then I realized that it was all uphill and on a dirt road (and the cars don´t slow down for you, leaving you covered in dust). I also had these annoying beetles that would fly around my head the whole time (I guess they were attracted to my sweat). They would always maneuver around my hand swatting them so when I got fed up enough, I would stop and smack them with my helmet, which would keep them away for 5 minutes (then another one would find me fascinating and follow me).

I eventually gave up getting to the base of the volcano as I realized two K´s short would be just the same and sat down under a tree to contemplate the volcano and my plans for the next few days. I was at a loss. What to do? I was planning on taking a 4-day cruise from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales ($275 bucks for the C-berth in a boat that is basically a freighter), but they hadn’t yet confirmed me so I didn’t think there would be space when I got there. But there could be, so I should get in the general area in case they confirm. Or I could take my time and head down to Puerto Natales (very southern and arctic Chile) and then just catch the boat back up. What to do, what to do.

I headed back down the hill – which was fun, since it was all down hill (and you get to go really fast). When I got back, I took a shower, changed my clothes and then went to take pictures. I am really excited about photography now. Pucón was a pretty cool place to take pictures and I took them until the sun went down, and then I had a beer while reading the paper, got some dinner (where I met an Italian guy traveling through South America) and then went back to my hostel.

But the lady that was to clean my clothes wasn’t there and had taken my clothes home with her (uhhh…okay). So I waited around while the lady that ran the place and her daughter tried to get a hold of her and then just went to bed and told them to wake me up when she arrived. At 12:30 (yeah, past midnight), she showed up, I paid her in a sleepy haze and went back to bed. I had to get up early for my trip to Valdivia (oh yeah, I had bought a ticket to Valdivia at the bus station), and I set my alarm system (drink a lot of water before going to bed so you get up early needing to go to the bathroom). I never hear my watch go off because I have to wear earplugs to get to sleep in hostels (lots of noise) and my water system seems to work pretty well.

I made it to the bus after a quick breakfast and hopped on. And away I went to Valdivia.

Tired, hungry, moneyless…and exhausted.

Kristofer and I hopped on the bus. Right on. We started getting comfortable. The nice thing about overnight bus trips is that you get to sleep and wake up in your destination. But…something sinister was stirring. The man behind us had met a girl. And although we didn’t yet know it, he was going to talk to her the whole night. Not quietly, mind you, but like you and I would talk in a crowded and noisy room. It seemed that even after she went to sleep he kept at it, talking about life, himself, her, his job – you know the story. It´s okay, I figured, he can´t talk forever. He has to get tired eventually. It´s midnight already, after all. Nope. He kept talking. And talking. And talking. Two hours at the Chilean border (standing in lines, getting bags inspected) didn’t tire him out either. He kept at it. And at it. And at it. Now, my friends, that´s how you win over a woman (if he can show her that he can talk this long…she can infer how long he can do other things, if you know what I mean *wink wink*)

I think I got about 30 minutes of sleep the whole night as I didn’t want to join Kristofer in the back of the bus (he had moved) on account of the incredible heat back there. So there we were, in Santiago (at least we arrived…at least), and me without any Chilean Pesos. So I had to find an ATM, which is easy in Santiago.

“Invalid Transaction”. What the hell? Let´s try again.

“Invalid Transaction”. Okay, we´ll find another on the way to the hostel (which we had not yet picked out).

We walked a lot that morning looking for a hostel. I think we walked for nearly two hours, and I really had to relieve my bladder, because it cost 100 Pesos to use the bathroom in the bus station and I didn’t have any money. I also tried a lot of ATM´s. All with the same (F$@”ing) response. But we eventually found a hostel and then got something to eat (while I tried more ATM´s).

No luck. And the banks couldn’t do a direct withdrawal unless I had my passport, which was back in the room.

OK, timeout. I need some sleep. I went back to the room and slept for a few hours and then returned to the bank. But it was closed. Yep. Bankers in Chile only have to work 5 hours a day, so it seems. Must be nice.

So I went online and had my dad call my bank to see what the problem was. As it turns out, they decided after nearly 5 months of international traveling that the past transaction was suspicious as it was done out of the United States and they didn’t know I was going to be traveling. So they shut me down. No email or anything. Awesome. So we finally got it squared away, but not before I took out some money on my credit card in desperation (which I will pay a hefty commission for, I promise).

No worries. Let´s just enjoy the city. Kristofer and I explored the streets for a while and went back to the hostel for dinner. We met the other travelers at the hostel (there were a ton) and then walked down to see if there were cheaper hostels close by. We found some, but not close by, and when we got back, we passed out with exhaustion.

The next day, I went exploring solo, and after a few rude encounters with people (everyone we have met has noticed that the people in Chile seem to be noticeably rude, for some reason), and visiting the modern art museum, I randomly met up with Kris in an internet cafe. We headed off to get his pictures developed and then went to a jazz concert in the middle of a park in the city. It was pretty nice and there were a ton of people and the wine we had smuggled in in water bottles helped us enjoy it even more. We ended up sitting on the grass talking for a while and then a few girls came up to us and started making conversation. After a while though, we got tired out and headed home unaccompanied, despite the requests on behalf of one of the ladies sitting next to us to both come home with her that night (remember what I said about the fact that there don´t seem to be many attractive Chilean girls like in Argentina), and hit the sack.

The next day we spent wandering around the city again and Kris gave me a pretty awesome photography tutorial. He taught me a lot of things about the settings for your camera when taking pictures and I am really excited. I am starting to get creative with my pictures and I think they will start getting a lot better and more interesting (better late than never). We didn’t do much that day, nor the day after – but we go our different ways from Santiago and I am now in Pucón, in Southern Chile. Our buses were at the same time, so we got to say goodbye at the bus station, but he was headed to Bolivia. It really is amazing how close you get to random people and you get better at saying goodbye and not letting it get you down. The bus was pretty comfortable and I arrived here without a problem, although I have no clue where I am going next. South. That´s all I know. South. Yeah…South.

Somebody…help the animals in this zoo!

I get on a night bus to Mendoza and the next thing I know, I’m getting shaken by the bus driver to wake up. Everyone has gotten off and taken their bags already and the luggage guy is waiting on me, so I put on my shoes quickly and run out to claim my backpack (before someone else does). And there I am, in a new city at 7AM.

Let’s get started.

I walk through the Mendoza bus station in a zombie like manner to find a place selling tickets to Santiago, Chile, where I will be going next. 30 pesos? Cool. Leaves in the afternoons. Right on.

So I coger a taxi (I’m gonna start throwing random Spanish words in my speech now so you all can learn with me) and have him take me to an internet cafe, or as they call it, a seeber (which used to be cyber cafe, then cyber, now seeber). There, I check to see what hostels are in the area at hostelworld.com and have another taxi take me to a promising looking hostel. It supposedly has a pool, free internet, cable and fans in the rooms, and that’s not too shabby. When I get there, I realize that it was no lie, and they do indeed have all that stuff.

But it’s hot in Mendoza, as it’s an Argentine desert, and when the owner shows me my room, it’s nearly suffocating. The fan blows over the other two guys, sleeping in pools of sweat and I can tell…it’s gonna be rough to get to bed at night. But no worries, it’s probably gonna be 50x worse when I get to India, so I might as well get used to it now. I check in, get situated and join a few other people downstairs for breakfast.

I talked with this one girl from I don’t remember where (it’s a neat place – you should visit) and she told me about how she and her boyfriend rented a motorcycle in Santiago and drove through Chile and Argentina for four weeks, and it sounded incredible. For $80 bucks a day though, compounded with the fact that I don’t have much time left in South America, I don’t think I’ll be doing the same any time soon. What a shame. So after breakfast, I got a shower and joined everyone out at the pool. I met Karen and Jimmy (who I swear is like 9 feet tall) from Sweden and we talked about where we had been and where we were going. Although it’s kind of annoying to explain your story over and over again to everyone you meet, it’s worth it in that you get to find out a lot of information about where you are going next from people who have been there. Sometimes, recommendations from others are the only way you can enjoy yourself in a city, as you get to learn from others’ mistakes.

So after the pool, I took a walk to the center of town to check everything out. Mendoza is built on a desert, but everything is still very green in the city.

From what I hear, they do a pretty good job of diverting water from the mountains and getting it from the ground, which means plenty of trees and shade throughout the city. They have quite a few plazas and parks with fountains and people relaxing on the benches or selling things on the sidewalks and there is also a street that is blocked off and filled with stores and restaurants for your walking pleasure. I grabbed some lunch and checked my email and then headed back to the hostel where I went back in the pool (what a great idea this pool was) and chatted with Karen and Jimmy again. They were going to see Lord of the Rings and I had already seen it, so I guess it was just going to be a night of hanging out and watching TV for me. I ended up going back to the town center that night, getting some pasta, having a few glasses of wine, and reading the paper before heading back to the hostel and going to bed.

But yeah, it was hot. And there was also bar in the hostel, which kept the music thumping until about 5AM. I had several dreams that I was in a concert, and when I woke up (in a pool of sweat), I wasn’t all that refreshed. At breakfast, I chatted with another Swedish guy in my room and we ended up renting mountain bikes and taking a tour of the city and the huge park (which is several square miles large) and also visited the zoo way in the back of the park.

I have never seen such a sad zoo…the foxes had mange (or however you spell it), the elephants looked as though they were about to die of dehydration, the monkeys were banging on the side of the cage for water and were given some only after the caretaker felt their tongues, the polar bears and tigers walked obsessively back and fourth in their small areas, and the camels humps were actually falling over (yeah, it was really weird). You could see the areas where water was at one time but there was none or very little (and green at that) in the pools for the animals and people were feeding the monkeys and apes popcorn and candy despite the signs asking not too (and there was nobody stopping them!!). We left the place in disgust. It was really big, but man, did they have problems. What a sad zoo…

At the end of the day, we met up with everyone else in the hostel at the supermarket (this was prearranged) and the six of us got the fixings for a pasta dinner (salad, snacks, pasta, plenty of wine) and we went back to the hostel, cooked dinner, and spent the night chatting, drinking and swimming. The dinner was awesome and I think we all really enjoyed it.

The next day we got up early and went and rented a car to go to La Puente del Inca which is a natural land bridge over a river, and lots of natural hot springs flowing through the area. I drove (which was really fun to do again, especially with a stick shift) there and back and we really enjoyed ourselves. It ended up costing us 60 pesos each after rental, tax and gas, which comes to about $20 US and it was worth every penny.

When we got back though, exhausted and sweaty (despite the AC in the car), Kristofer (the Swedish guy I toured the city on bike with) and I packed up and took off the plaza to get some food and leave for Santiago, Chile.

Our bus was to leave at midnight and after some trouble finding the right bus (they switched companies on us) and fending off a drunk homeless guy looking for money, we were off to Chile!

Mendoza was fun, although I didn’t get a chance to tour the wineries. I figured that I was pretty short on time as it was and I have seen plenty of wineries in California. I just settled for getting some good wine and promising that I would buy a few more bottles of it to try it out before leaving South America. If you don’t mind the heat (it was like So Cal in the Summer), you will enjoy Mendoza and there is a lot more stuff to do there than I ended up doing (rafting, paragliding, tour’s, and stuff like that). I recommend Puente Del Inca as the drive up there is incredible, and one could easily spend a 5 or 6 days there checking everything out. Too bad I only had time for two though.