Desierto norte de Chile

Friday, February 29, 2008

Oh the peso, how you've grown!

I'm not an expert on monetary policy, but since I have arrived, the Chilean peso (CLP) has appreciated quite dramatically against the US dollar. On December 1, US$1.00 would buy about 515 pesos. Now US$1 buys only 450 pesos, a drop of 12.6% in three months. If I were an investor, that kind of return (assuming I was holding pesos, not dollars) would be quite nice! You can follow the exchange rate with me here.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sundays are for rest

Okay, the previous post was more about what I "did".... this post is more about how I'm doing / feeling these days.

1- The "round the world" travelers are addicting and I have a serious case of envy. I definitely still feel very confident in my decision to move to Santiago, but I can't help wonder what else I could be doing now.... (heck, in Prescott AZ or Mobile AL as a professor!!?)

2- I am communication-starved. The internet connection just isn't sufficient to use skype or yahoo to call friends back in the states, and I don't know a cost-efficient method (yet) of calling to the states (the methods I know cost about $0.50/min for me to call the USA ... but only $0.04 for the USA to call me ... and you guys', except for Yvonne and my mom, haven't called me, at least to my knowledge!) So when I meet other english-speaking travelers, it's awesome to speak in english and just talk with them, ask them questions, and share traveling stories.

3- I realize that, as I approach three months here in Santiago, I am still essentially friendless. My few initial contacts proved to be difficult to sustain over the "summer", and my efforts at being proactive and seeking people out have not yet borne fruit. For example, as I type this post, it has been exactly 48 hrs since I have spoken to someone (other than "buenas ____" to my doorman as I come and go, and also "dos kilos, por favor" to the guy in the street market as I bought some grapes this morning). This is neither unexpected nor overwhelming; however, it is still difficult for an extrovert not to interact with anyone for several consecutive days. Thus, traveling proves to be a nice respite from my solitary existence here in Santiago.

4- The university semester starts at the beginning of March, and I am interested to see how our campus looks and feels once it's populated again.

5- I wonder if this sense of isolation and loneliness is a product of "culture shock". I don't yet know how / where to meet people in Santiago, and of course the language barrier is pretty stiff. And perhaps I am expecting too much of the locals -- that they would reach out to me, invite me into their lives. Again, I don't think this struggle is unique to Stgo.; I'm sure it's normal for anyone who relocates to a new place where they don't know anyone. Patience (not something I am known to have) is coming in handy! I am praying that these emotions would sink in and teach me, so that whenever I am in a place to be hospitable, I would offer my friendship with abundance and without reservation or respect to other obligations. (Someone can copy/paste this last sentence back to me in a few years to see how I'm living up to this goal!)

6- Electric screwdrivers are NOT power drills. I am now the proud owner of an essentially worthless electric screwdriver, and I am still not the owner of curtains over my windows. Perhaps I'll have to bite the bullet and just pay someone to come to my apt. and install the things. And I was so proud of myself for going to the home depot-type store, all in spanish mind you, and finding what I (thought I) needed, buying it, and hauling it back through the metro (you try getting onto the subway with a 2.5 meter (~10 ft) metal dowel rod, a 20-lb set of put-together-yourself bookshelves, and the aforementioned power tool & accessories! Not easy!!) My walls are made of cement (meaning even something simple like hanging posters proves to be quite challenging), so I need a drill to hang my curtains (and also install 3 light fixtures ... now I have bulbs dangling by their wires protruding from my ceiling ... it's like the apartment was 90% finished when the first tenant moved in, and has been ever since!)

Okay, that's enough rambling for today. Enjoy the Academy Awards tonight ... I wonder if they are on t.v. here in Chile?

February vacation: Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego

Wow, how beautiful is creation in the southernmost points of South America!! Here's a very brief description (followed by photos) of my activities last week.

Saturday and Sunday: I took an overnight flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas, Chile, on the Magellan straight, across from Tierra del Fuego. I arrived early Sunday morning, and forgoing sleep (except a few hours at "Hospedaje Costanera", run by a sweet lady named Teresa), hopped on the 9:30 ferry to Porvenir (a small Chilean town actually on the island of Tierra del Fuego). After thoroughly exploring the tiny pueblo that is Porvenir, I returned on the night ferry. I connected with a couple of Aussie guys on a 12-month round-the-world journey for dinner at La Luna (the kingfish was amazing, and reasonably cheap... total about $14 for the whole meal).

Monday: After a simple breakfast of bread, jam, and juice, I went to the central market and bought a hat, gloves, and my bus ticket to Puerto Natales. Our three-hour trip to Puerto Natales took us through some spectacular scenery of lower Patagonia. That night I had some great conversations with my first Israeli friends, who were also planning to hike in the Torres del Paine national park the next day. They suggested eating steak at this quaint restaurant three blocks from our hostel (Backpackers Kawashkar), so I chowed down to prep for my hike the next day. Even in mid-February (akin to mid-August in the northern hemisphere), the sun didn't set until after 9:30 p.m. since we were at 53 degrees south.

Tuesday: Rose early, enjoyed the home-cooked eggs from Omar and Rafa (the proprietors of the hostel), and caught the transfer to the park. I was so inspired by all the backpackers headed to the park ... some gringos, but also lots of Chileans and Argentinians ... for their multi-day treks. I only had time for one day, but it was spectacular. They say that you can experience all four seasons in one day in the national park, and wouldn't you know it, that was very true! The hike started off in summer, with a strong sun (and oh, man, some wind!!) and green scenery. We quickly changed to autumn as the terrain became drier (the wind, however, chose not to abate). As I passed through the river channel, we switched back to spring, as a steady light rain fell and the trees became lush again. I prayed for sun at the top, knowing I still had to scale some pretty steep boulders for the final 20 mins to ge to the Torres (which mean "Towers" in english) viewpoint. At the top, we had sleet, strong wind, and lots of cloud... winter! However, my prayers were answered as only 15 mins later the clouds broke and the sun came out, warming us and giving great views! After 3:01 to the top, I rested for about 90 mins and then began my descent to take the transfer & bus back to Puerto Natales.

Wednesday: After another great breakfast, I caught yet another bus back to Punta Arenas, arriving around 11:30 a.m. I chatted with the Aussie guys a little more (who were itching to get to the national park after 3 days in Punta Arenas, a city with some, but not 3 days' worth, of touristy things to do). For lunch, I met this very interesting older couple (an english guy and portuguese woman each about 60), who engaged me for probably 2 hrs worth of conversation. I think I enjoyed them as much as they enjoyed me (the guy, especially, kept saying he was glad for the chance to speak with me...). I had wanted to see the penguins on this afternoon, but no luck, as some of the other hostel residents suggested the trip was not worth it. So after lunch I hung around the hostel and chatted with 2 Californians, a German, and 2 French from Marseilles (who were very shocked to find that I once visited Marseilles for 10 days!)

Thursday: I awoke with a start at 6:30 a.m. by the ringing of the hostel telephone. Turns out, I forgot to set my alarm, and the ringing was the airport transfer bus - parked just outside the door - calling me to come out. I ran out in my PJs and asked for "dos minutos, por favor" ... fortunately the guy was friendly and agreed. Also fortunately I had packed everything the night before, so I scurried to throw on my jeans, change my shirt, and put on a hat (yay for hats!!) My flight left around 8 a.m., and I was back in Stgo and my apartment before noon.

*** Captions are ABOVE the figures ***

Getting ready to board the ferry across the Magellan Straight from Punta Arenas to Porvenir.

The requisite shot of sheep wool being transported from Patagonia.

Our ferry, the Melinka.

The Straight of Magellan.

Hello from the stern!

Goodbye Punta Arenas!

Enjoying the fresh breeze. I ended up meeting the guy to my left, Diego, a Chileno from Los Andes (no, he does not speak English), and we hung out together for the five hours we were in Porvenir.

The ferry trip was 2.5 hrs ... so at one point I enjoyed resting (although it was MUCH more comfortable when the sun was out!)

Almost to Porvenir and Tierra del Fuego!

Dolphins in the straight.

Inside our ferry, with seating (& lifejacket) capacity for 246 passengers.

Yay, Tierra del Fuego!

And Porvenir, appropriately named a "communa" (with less than 5,000 people, Diego and I probably walked on each of its streets during our five-hour visit!)

The center square of Porvenir. Notice my long shadow, despite it being summer and almost midday (Porvenir is also at about 53 degrees south).

The entire communa of Porvenir.

Standing on Tierra del Fuego! (Is it any wonder that it's only really useful for sheep herding?)

Flags of Chile and the police of Chile (los carabineros).

Back to Punta Arenas and Patagonia. We had much rougher seas this time around, thus I'm not feeling 100% (plus I am feeling the lack of sleep I had from my overnight flight).

Center square, Punta Arenas.

Okay, I touched the toe, according to legend I must now return to Punta Arenas!

Mmmm... great food and great company!

One of several shopkeepers in the center square selling alpaca-wool items. My hat was oh so warm!!

Yet another bus, this one to Puerto Natales.

Requisite sheep = patagonia photo.

The port at Puerto Natales.

My bunk at the Backpackers Kawashkar hostel (I was down low).

The town of Puerto Natales. Almost everyone was a tourist, and they were all either coming from or going to Torres del Paine National Park.

Sunset at the port.

These rainbows followed us for almost 2 hrs as we bussed to the park entrance.

Made it ... Torres del Paine (Towers of Paine, not a reference to "pain" ... the brochure indicated that "Paine" is perhaps a transliteration of a native indian word for wind ... and considering the wind in the park, this is very reasonable!)

Our bus transfer to the trailhead was too heavy to make with all the passengers. So we had to disembarque and walk across this narrow bridge.

Our "transfer" bus from the park entrance to the trailhead (this one was the bus that was too heavy for the narrow bridge pictured above).

Three great Israeli guys whom I befriended at the youth hostel. Unfortunately I dont have their email or any other way to contact them!

Onward and upward.

Que bueno!

Looking back down after about 15 mins of trekking.

Just around that bend .... (yea, right!)

After 2.5 hrs of trekking ... and waiting for the rain to clear (it stopped just after taking this picture, but it was still cold!)

Ahh, the three Torres! While I rested here, the weather & lighting improved markedly!

It alternated between cold, sleety, sunny, and very windy ... all in the span of 90 minutes!

But I made it! This photo idea was inspired by a Belgian guy I met here, who had a great camera and gave me tips about lighting and focus.

And I really enjoyed my alpaca-wool cap that I bought in Punta Arenas!

Post card-worthy? Perhaps!

That's a LONG way down a very steep and rocky slope (that I had to climb up 2 hrs earlier). Probably about 200-250 meters in elevation gain.

Wind erosion!

A glacier!

Back at the base camp, with the Torres (well, 2 of them) in the distance over my left shoulder.

I started at Hosteria Los Torres, continued upward to Campamento Chileno, then to Campamento Torres, finally up to the mirador (viewpoint).

Back to Santiago at last, after a great holiday in the southernmost city of the world!

    Newer›  ‹Older