December 01, 2006

Drabs and Dribbles - The Return to Argentina

So I last left you in Coyhaique, Chile. Since then I have taken numerous ferries, saw the Cuevas de los Manos, crossed the Chilean-Argentine border about three times, booked a boat to Antarctica (!!!!), hiked on a glacier in Calafate, went horseback riding with a wonderful picnic lunch, backpacked part of the famous “W” in Torres del Paine park and am now sitting in Ushuaia drinking coffee and occasionally looking out the window to glance upon the Beagle Channel – yes – the Beagle Channel. Have I mentioned how wonderful and diverse South American is?

So I finally left Coyhaique after a tense morning waiting for the minibus that was to transport me and my bike to the ferry. It was supposed to show up at 6:30 and moseyed up in front of the hostel at 7:30. This was after they locked me out of the hostel – I had to bang on the door and get them to call the transport company for me. Anyway, off I went hoping that my fellow biker, Nick, was safe and sound and out of the 4 inches of snow that had fallen overnight. I was glad that I made the decision to not ride – I would have been miserable and growing through endurance was not the frame of mind that I was in at that point. Once on the ferry, I sat in the minibus to stay out of the wind and cold and to avoid the huge waves that splashed over the side of the ferry and onto the windshields of our bus (and on my bike which they had lashed to the side of the boat). I was happy not to be out there. We landed and after a few crazy gringa woman sentences and gestures to the captain of the ferry (no one else would look at me) they finally released my bike from the boat. Perhaps someone was hoping that the bike would just be forgotten. Fat chance. Actually, to be more realistic, there was probably just some protocol and paperwork that I was ignorant of and we all really just did what we could – I insisted on my bike in baby Spanish; they insisted that I wait to have someone else bring it off the boat.

I loaded up and set out for my very short ride to Los Antiguos – back into Argentina. It felt good to be on the bike, if only for what I though was to be a 7km ride but turned out to be a 15km ride (about ½ on gravel) due to road construction. I rode on pavement, in the chilly but not rainy weather to the Chilean border – this was a stop sign (PARE) in the middle of the road – with no parking area – I guess they don’t get much traffic at this crossing. After rousing the police and aduana from their lunches I breezed through the border in about 5 minutes. Wow. Then I headed off onto what the GPS said was a secondary road toward my beloved Argentina. I pedaled and pedaled and even flagged down a passing truck to see if I was going in the right direction. I was – they had just changed the road! Breezed through the border and hopped onto an, oh so convenient bus that was headed to Perito Moreno (changed my mind about riding the next day – worried about bus schedules).

Perito Moreno was the perfect example of how open and helpful Argentinean people can be. There was one company offering travel to El Calafate (my next major destination) and while it wasn’t Chalten Travel (who didn’t bother to email me back about ticket purchases) and didn’t go down the famous Ruta 40 it was transportation, they would take my bike AND it was cheaper. The ticket seller got me a bus for the next day, called a travel agent to help me arrange a trip to Cuevas de los Manos and between the two of them discussed places for me to sleep. The travel agent piled my bike and gear into her truck and off we went to find a bed. This is about the third time that someone has driven me around city or town and helped me find a decently priced, clean bed to sleep in. I am just constantly amazed by this (and it’s all been in Argentina!!). Bed found, we unloaded my stuff, she drove me to town, showed me the banks, grocery stores, and internet and after agreeing to pick me up at 6am for the Caves, we parted.

The next morning dawned very early – somehow I had managed to stay up until midnight – packing my bags for the 20 hour bus ride that I would embark on almost as soon as we returned from the caves and read for a bit. I’m reading more again now – when I don’t stay in hostels. Hostels are sometimes dangerous places – too much socializing and not enough reflection and writing. Bad Nif (but I have met some fascinating people – and some really stupid ones too).

You know – I am leaving for Antarctica tomorrow and have realized that I would like to actually describe the events of the past few weeks in detail and I do not have the time right now, this evening to dedicate to another 10 pages of tedious detail. But, I should have time on the boat – I share a cabin with one other person. I hope that I have the self-discepline to actually focus on writing. It will be sort of like a prison; on a boat there won’t actually be anywhere to go. Ahhh, but that is not true – apparently the operations deck is open and we can badger them about navigation and GPS and all that fun stuff. I’m looking forward to it. And to all of the wildlife that I am supposed to potentially see. And to set foot on Antarctica!!!!

November 14, 2006

Playing Catch-Up with the Past


Three sets of new photos posted and don't forget to check the archives - lots of photos lately

New Google Earth kmz file: Peru to Chile!!! Download file (Opens in Google Earth)

Also, if you haven’t already, please visit my Heifer International gift registry and help bring chimneys to Peru!! Thank you!!

Salta or Waiting for the Bike Part

I arrived in Salta, Argentina expecting to be there for a few days while waiting for a part for my bike. The bike was doing something which I referred to as “wobble” and it was driving me crazy – it was impossible to ride. It turns out that my wobble (low speed and high speed) seems to be due to some combination of materials, part selection, handlebar bag use, and total weight being carried. This baffled me as I was not carrying too much gear. In fact, there was not much extra in there for an extended trip such as this one (OK – there is a lightweight computer and a book or two – but that is only 4 lbs more). It is not a design flaw though – it is simply a limitation of the pieces. My last bike – also a steel frame touring bike – had the exact same problem (and I was carrying much less weight). As it turns out, removing the handlebar bag solved the problem for the time being but I had hoped that a stronger headset would allow me to continue using the oh-so-useful handlebar bag.

Salta is warm and welcoming place after months at high altitudes and cold weather. It is possible to wear (and I did) a tee shirt and occasionally, even shorts. No socks, no long sleeve shirts, no gloves, and last but not least no HAT! I ended up being there a week waiting in vain; the part was sent by US Postal Service rather than Federal Express and arrived three weeks later – long after I had gone. But while I waited, I sat around drinking café con leche on the plaza, listening to the bells and visiting museums – what a hard life,huh?

Salta is a place where you can begin to appreciate Argentine beef and wine. There are some very decent restaurants and bars to while away the hours after you have finished drinking coffee. Some good basic selections are empanadas, bife de lomo with papas fritas or a minuta milanesa. The odd thing is that many of the restaurants appear to be catering to tourists (mostly Argentine), but somehow they manage to serve fantastic food in a cheesey atmosphere. I have no problem with that! Also, it is here where you can get your first taste of those famous Argentine wines especially from the Cafayate and Mendoza regions!


After Salta, I headed South for a few days only to be lured in by the wonders of wine in Cafayate. As I headed out of Salta, I kept passing masses of pilgrims who were on their way into town for a huge festival. One of these lucky devils found my wallet and probably attributed their luck to the Virgin. People were traveling groups or with their families or even sometimes alone. One of the most poignant images I have of the pilgrims is one of an older man walking alone. He was at least 30 km from Salta carrying a small statue of the Virgin. Where was he from? Why did he do this pilgrimage? Did he do it every year? Oh the unanswered questions.

The two day ride to Cafayate was a beautiful one that wound through horse and farm country before becoming drier again. The temperatures are pleasant here in the early Spring and most importantly, there is no rain. The first night I camped for the first time in ages and the next morning I could see the beginnings of the Quebrada de Cafayate – another beautiful and desolate canyon area separating the fertile valley landa from those of the desert.

Cafayate is a great little town to spend a few days in. The majority of the tourists only come in for the day so the evenings are rather quiet. There is wine flavored ice cream to try – Torrentes and Cabernet Sauvignon – both of which go quite well with chocolate! And, yet again, there was delicious steak to eat – a punto – medium rare. The Torrentes grape is what Cafayate is known for, but I cannot recall all of its history right now. I believe that no one else in the world really cultivates this grape or if they do it is used in blends rather than as a varietal. But here, it is the grape of choice and makes an absolutely delightful bottle of wine to drink chilled in the hot afternoon sun.

Tourist-wise I was able to take a side trip to Quilmes – a reconstructed ancient community. It was impressive to see these beautiful stone structures tucked into a natural depression on the side of a mountain. The next day, I spent a morning going horseback riding for the first time in years. It was much as I remembered – the horses were farm horses – pulled from working to carry around tourists. I was given a gaucho hat to wear and off we went up into the hills above Cafayate. The amazing thing is that the hills are just littered with the remains of houses and structures much like those at Quilmes – only they are not reconstructed. You can see dozens of mortar holes (used for grinding grains) in the rocks and everywhere you go there are pottery fragments on the ground.

Cafayate to Mendoza and Meeting Art & Judee

The night before I was to leave Cafayate, I received an email from two cyclists – Art and Judee Wickersham – who had gotten my contact information from a mutual acquaintance in Bolivia (crazy how that works, huh?). I went out to the campground to meet them, was greeted by an energetic couple in their early 60’s, offered a cup of wine and ended up talking for over an hour. It turns out that they are on a 5 year, around the world journey on their bike and were just finishing their first year on the road. They were happy to take me on as a cycling companion for awhile and we agreed to meet the next morning.

The next few weeks were a blur of camping, conversation, companionship, and wine. Art and Judee are on a tandem and when the going got tough due to winds I would just sit behind the tandem talking to Judee or watching her head swivel from side to side as she found interesting things along the side of the road to point out to Art and I. They were the best cycling companions that I have ever had – we rode approximately the same pace, liked to camp but stayed in the occasional hotel., drank wine, and stopped to see the sites instead of just powering through. I have to say these were among some of the best weeks of my trip!

Some highlights of the weeks with them…
The pass out of Cafayate and the amazing descent from ~2,000 m to approximately ~400 m. The pass was rough going, but not the worst ever. The winds increased closer to the top, buffeting us to the point of almost knocking us over. But reaching the other side was well worth it. The descent to the warmer, fertile valley took three days/two nights. On the second night in Tafi del Valle we were able to enjoy the foods of the area and got pastries and some great goat cheese and jamon for our lunches. The main descent was after Tafi del Valle and was exhilarating. We passed from an alpine valley with horses and cows and goats, to more wooded lands with raging streams below us and sheer walls on either sides, past the “Fin del Mundo”, downwards to the fertile valley on the Western edges of the pampas with rolling hills of green, green, green and as much sugar cane as the eyes could take in.

Somewhere here a few days back into the drier, flatter, windier parts of the terrain a little bug worked its way into my digestive system. I toughed it out for two days, determined not to take any Cipro but on a cooler, windy day, about a quarter of the way up an unexpected pass, it got the better of me and I left Art and Judee to hitch a ride to Catamarca where I felt so very miserable for about two days. There are stories here about the man who gave me a ride and drove me around to look for a cheap hotel, and about trying to send emails to let people know I was ok while needing to, very urgently, run for a bathroom, seeing Art & Judee on the street in Catamarca just as I was wondering where they were, and finally about beginning to feel human again – without the Cipro. I hopped on a bus to La Rioja to meet them and we were back on the road again.

The next week or so was more pleasant riding and a patchwork of details. There were more days of even dustier deserts and heavy winds, vistas looking out over pancakes of nothingingness, the annoying Argentine habits of music at all hours - Cumbia until your eyes crossed, side trip to Valle de la Luna, tourist bus breaking down – naps in the van and then came the final moment - the separation from my beloved riding partners.

We had just spent a few days sightseeing and resting in San Agustin del Valle Fertil. Recovering from the winds, doing laundry, updating journals and lazing about reading. We packed up our stuff after finally having a quiet night at the campground, headed off – me to the hostel to drop off a book and A&J to the edge of town to wait. Judee had said something that morning along the lines of “I wish I had another day to laze about” and as it turns out here wishes were granted. On the edge of town, only meters from hitting the road – their rear hub failed.

We headed to a bike shop to see what could be done and I whipped out the cassette remover tool that I had been lugging around for months. We all stood around and watched while Art and some bike mechanic took apart the pieces of the rear wheel to see what could be done. Long story short, the wheel went to San Juan while we waited, came back in working order, we headed off into a long stretch of desert and after a night of wild camping, the morning dawned with me getting a flat and the hub failing once again but this time in the middle of the desert. I headed off South to Mendoza alone and they spent hours hitching a ride and going on an even more twisted journey that eventually led them to Mendoza on the same day as me.

The Changing Journey

I rode that day and one more by myself and hitched the last hundred kilometers, skirting a huge thunderstorm, to Mendoza. It was at this point that my journey changed drastically – from a journey on bike to one in trucks, planes, buses, and occasionally the bike. Some of this was due to opportunities that came up – Easter Island for example – but some of it was taking a hard look what I wanted to accomplish with the time that I had left and what I enjoyed doing. Two things came out of this contemplation: 1) the distances left to cover are too great to finish by bicycle in the time I have remaining and to try to do so would not allow me to enjoy the sights of the countries I was visiting and 2) I have learned enough about myself to know that when I am lonely and sad and the weather is miserable (rainy or cold and snowy) I do not want to be riding – I could, I just don’t want to.

I suppose that some would say that I have no willpower, no fortitude, but honestly, I don’t care what some would say. What is most important on a journey like this is to look honestly at ones self and to learn. It is your life, no one else’s.

And I do enjoy bicycle touring, but I bit off more that I could chew with South America. This is a big continent and in five months, I have only touched the surface. The longer I stay here the longer I want to be here. And then there is the rest of the world to explore. Bicycle touring is special – it is a slow way to see a place – to absorb the people, the culture, the terrain, the food. I love it, but right now it will not help me fulfill the goals I have set for myself.

Recollections: Mendoza and Easter Island
The Journey: Heading to the Bottom of the World

November 12, 2006

Waiting, Waiting, Waiting

I am now in the depths of Chilean Patagonia, holed up in Coyhaique waiting for the weather, waiting for the ferries, waiting for the buses. This section of the world is series of contrasts: wifi in the restaurants but unknown ferry schedules to the border. Estancias accessible only by 4x4 vehicles and pdas. Low-end hostels and beautiful houses.

The last week has been a series of drastic ups and downs. David visited Santiago and Valparaiso and upon his departure and the separation from my other traveling companions of the past few weeks, Art and Judee, I was left in this beautiful, but lonely country sort of floundering. Each day my travel plans change due to mood, weather and schedules, but after a series of fortunate events I am back on track, albeit with not much riding left. I have only one month of travel time to get to Ushuaia and so much, so much to see: Perito Moreno Glacier, Torres del Paines, the Beagle Channel, maybe even Antarctica!

Upon leaving Santiago last Wednesday October 29th (it seems so long ago) I headed to Puerto Montt on an overnight bus with the intention of getting to the island of Chiloe and riding there for a few days. After arriving in Puerto Montt and realizing that buses to Ancud (on Chiloe) left often, I bought a ticket and headed directly to the island. In Ancud I spent a day trying to see the penguin colonies at the Otway Foundation, but this was not to be owing to “malito mer” – “bad seas” or something of the sorts. We couldn’t take the boat out because the seas were rough but I was fortunate enough to be able to see some Magellanic penguins, Steamboat ducks, and sea lions with the aid of binoculars. Mission accomplished – my first wild penguin sighting and I bought a postcard to prove it.

Have I mentioned the rains yet? No, well it rains a lot here and it is the beginning, just barely, of the tourist season. This means that one gets to endure the joys of the maybe yes, maybe no seasonal ferry schedules. According to the tourist information booth in Ancud there was a ferry from Quellon, at the bottom of the island which departed on Wednsdays and Saturdays. Given that it was already Wednesday I decided to make my plans to get to Quellon one way or the other by Friday. I set off riding from Ancud south on November 1st (All Souls Day – with everyone visiting cemeteries and saying “hi” to dead people), in the rain, with a heavy heart. However, the ride was beautiful despite the rain. The island is covered with the beautiful (but malito) flower called Chaquay (maybe) that was “imported” from Ireland. The winds were from the West but the road south is sheltered by high embankments or tree cover on both sides so it wasn’t really a hindrance. The road itself is paved and had many rolling hills. I just pushed on and on, past my initial goal of a campsite (still raining), past Castro (it looked kind of dismal) and onto Chonchi where I had heard of a hostel with internet, a great breakfast, and a quirky owner. This combination drove me to ride about 110km – my best day yet and I arrived soaked through (the raingear only keeps you warm – not dry), tired and happy to have a warm stove to sit by and a kitchen to cook in.

The hostel, Esmeralda by the Sea, is run by Carlos (a Canadian) and is quite the lap of luxury in a tiny town on a relatively remote Chilean island. Luxury is relative here mind you, there are rooms with and without bathrooms and dorms, a kitchen to use, WiFi internet connection, a great view, good company, heat, a killer breakfast, all the information on the island one could use and great walk recommendations. Carlos, while a font of knowledge, does not like to tell you his information sources so a few days later when he informed us that the ferry was leaving Sunday not Saturday he would not really tell us where he got this information. But, it was of no consequence to me, I would get there, Quellon, one way or another so I stayed at the Esmeralda for a few days waiting for the ferry, happy to be someplace nice to question the rest of my travel plans and at this point my entire life. Sounds heavy? It was (and still is). The next day (Thursday) the weather cleared and I went for a nice, little 10 mile walk over to a neighboring island. It was good to go walking, talk to the birds and the cows about life, and breathe some more fresh island air. I hitched a ride from the ferry back to Chonchi and had a fantastic mussel dinner (all by myself Mom – I can eat alone in a restaurant now too!). Carlos made fun of my eating mussels with two fingers and a fork, but this is coming from someone who lives in a country where they eat sandwiches with knives and forks so I don’t know why he was making fun of me!

I spent the next two days rebuilding the Photos part of my website (so you lovely people could view all of my lovely photos) and enjoying the company of the various people who had traveled to Chonchi. We had a marvelous group dinner with salmon, merluza and a fish that one of the other travelers caught, yummy breakfasts of pancakes, and lots and lots of online computer maintenance time. Sunday morning I caught the bus to Quellon and tracked down the truck that was supposed to take my bike over the ferry for me (in order to save some money).

As it turns out this was the beginning of things looking brighter for me. The truck that was to help me turned out to be no ordinary truck, it was “The Beast” and is driven by a superbien British couple Greg and Alexis. (Please visit their website to see what they are up to with their journey.) Greg stashed my bike and gear in the back and then invited me in. As we waited and waited to board the ferry (yes it left on Sunday but just a little behind schedule due to who knows what) we got to talking and the plan of the day was to breeze through Chaiten and head to some hot springs for the night – Termas del Amarillo. Since I love hot springs, I asked to come along and was surprised by the level of welcome that Greg and Alexis gave me. I don’t think that they realized how much I didn’t want to be alone, but they didn’t question anything and over the next day listened to my changing plans – they even offered to let me ride with them to Ushuaia. Anyway, we enjoyed a great evening of hot springs in one of my top ten settings and then a crappy dinner (the food of the day is another story altogether) and then three bottles of wine and an evening of playing Shithead – a card game that I actually enjoy. Finally, a card game I enjoy and cannot wait to teach everyone at home to play (if they don’t already know).

The next morning (I had decided not to ride anymore and was going to Ushuaia to see if I could get on a boat to Antarctica) we set out along the Carreterra Austral. Despite the off and on rain it was a beautiful drive and we saw one of the last great wildernesses and a few glaciers along the way. The road conditions ranged from crappy to okay (with the most crappy to come then next day!) but the Beast, while being an sturdy ex-Army Landrover with a long history, does not have the best shocks and cannot barrel over rough ground like the slick pick-ups and 4x4s that passed us constantly on the road. Finally after about 250km of driving we pulled into an idyllic campsite on the side of a lake. Standing there in the falling darkness was a guy listening to a minidisk player and drinking a cup of cocoa. As it turns out, this guy, Nicholas, was riding a bike – well you can imagine how the wheels (in my head that is) started spinning again.

We all spent a great night eating curry courtesy of The Beastlies and playing more Shithead and talking. It turns out that both Greg and Nick speak fluent French – Greg got packed off to an expensive boarding school that “changed his life” and Nick went to the Alliance Francaise in Chile – lucky guys – and I’m not kidding here. The next morning dawned (after two bottles of wine) bright and blue and with an abrupt change in heart that I am becoming used to, I asked Nick if I could join him riding. He agreed, happily and after a breakfast of yes, oatmeal; I packed allll of my crap back up and started riding. It was a glorious two days of riding – bright, beautiful – all the best one could wish for on the Carreterra Austral. We met the Beastlies about 17km down the really bad gravel road for some snacks and mate and Nick had the chance to put on his new Marathon XR tire (courtesy of me – someone should use it!) after discovering that his tire was flat.

The next two days were great. Later that first day we hit pavement (much of this area is being paved bit by bit) which was actually a good thing. Just 30km of the worst road Nick had seen was enough for my very sore nether regions (but it was worth every saddle sore!). The first day was a huge adventure: wire basket rides over the river we were following, drinking water from the river (which was later to give us both acute gastrointestinal sickness), the most beautiful camping site ever, a great dinner and good companionship. The following day – all on pavement – was more the same great scenery and a goal to get to Coyhaique. Nick had contacts here and I was jonesing for the internet (sometimes you just need to be in contact with the rest of the world). We made it in good time – over a beautiful mini pass – and one of the best moments of the trip: a TAILWIND, birds playing above my head, a beautiful vista, huge wind turbines (which I think are beautiful), and Radiohead on the ipod.

So now I have been here in Coyhaique for four days, two of which were spent quite ill due to that delicious river water that we drank without filtering and the next two (today included) were spent killing time. Now after reviewing the weather forecast for the next two days, I will disappoint Nick and all of you at home with my decision to take a bus to Puerto Ibanez. It was to be a great two day ride, but given the weather forecast of a high of 47, winds between 13 – 26 mph, and some snow and rain, why torture myself? Also, if I can get to Ushuaia before December 1st it looks like I can get a walk-on rate on a cruise to Antarctica (if there is space)!!!

Over and out from Chilean Patagonia.

October 28, 2006

From the abyss...

So how far am I behind? Let me count the weeks…

There are many, many new photos, but there is a problem with the photo part of the website that dear Carl is trying to help me to fix...

If, you haven’t already, please visit my Heifer International gift registry and help bring chimneys to Peru!! Thank you!!

David has just left Santiago, Chile and is most likely getting on a plane while I attempt to document the past, let’s see, month and a half – well, I actually have only documented the past week – the week in Valparaiso and Santiago with David.

David arrived last Saturday after very, very long trip which involved two planes and a taxi. He arrived in Valparaiso tired but happy to have finally arrived. We didn’t do much that evening except a simple walk around the neighbor hood and a decent dinner at the hotel. The next day though we tried to tie a little of vacation for him and sightseeing for me into a plan. The Brighton B&B is a very well-placed, but somewhat mis-run establishment. The prices for our room were advertised as $39 but we paid $65 per night. What happened there? And don’t get me started on the shower – it was about the size of a matchbox and only sometimes had hot water. But as it was located on Cerro Conception about El Plan and had a fantastic view of the harbor and the other hills. Each morning we would take our breakfast on the deck overlooking the city and eat our pancita and drink our café (which in this rare case in Chile was not Nescafe).

Sunday we got up relatively late – a treat for both David and I – and headed out to the weekly antiques/handicraft market. We took our time walking and browsing, difficult for two non-native New Yorkers. Sauntering is just so difficult. We looked at the books, and antiques, and old prints, and knick-knacks and even purchased a few things for the house and for gifts. Later in the afternoon we visited the Lukas Museo – it is a museum dedicated to the comic art of a man who went by the pseudonym Lukas – and is pretty good. The museum is located in the house atop Cerro Conception where he lived and worked. Other than the museum, the next most memorable part of the day was eating dinner and listening to a couple from the US try to decide what to eat. She was from Washington, D.C. and he was from the Lower East Side, New York. If they weren’t being so intolerant they would have been sort of fun to talk to. It seems that they had some interesting run-ins with Chileans and henceforth proclaimed all Chileans to be weird. On the beach, some man had rolled over the sand towards the woman and freaked her out, someone else insisted on speaking to her in French even though her Spanish was better (she looks Polynesian – i.e. French speaking), and then there was something that they though was weird about the dogs. The thing that made them annoying was that they were the new version of “typical Americans” – loud, judgmental, and now young and hip looking. But we enjoyed our pizza (Valparaiso has a lot of Italians in it’s history) and drinks and headed home after exchanging “happy travels”.

Monday and Tuesday were more days of walking around. Valparaiso is a great city for walking. It is reminiscent of San Francisco with the old and architecturally varied buildings, the decay, the earthquakes, the water. It smells more like Venice though, with flowers, sewage, the ocean, and food. We rode ascensors up and down the hills, visited the Naval Museum (which was only ok – lots of costumes and stuff from military ships that had sunk). I looked for cool North Arrows on the maps in the museums and David looked for dioramas and information on the battles and attacks that occurred. In the afternoon on Monday, while we were eating an afternoon snack of Camembert cheese and olives and a glass of wine (for me only – it was VERY bad wine) Art and Judee, my cycling friends appeared at the top of the stairs of the Brighton and I went running over to them with hugs and kissing and general American Beauty Pageant squealing. It was so very good to see them again after splitting up from them in Mendoza. They had had their wallets stolen and I headed off to Easter Island. We agreed to meet for dinner. Monday’s dinner was at a place called J. Cruz Museo (recommended by the loud D.C. woman) and when we walked in we were our eyes were presented with a chaotic vision of curio cabinets filled to the brim with curios and walls covered with knick knacks of all sorts Every other surface was covered with bright colored writing and graffiti, most of which was illegible. And our ears were serenade by an accordion and song. We sat down, asked for a menu and were promptly told that the establishment only sold one thing – chorrillana (for 2 or 3)– which is a sort of drunk food consisting of a huge mound of greasy fries, topped by onions sautéed with a little bit of scrambled egg, topped by a small mound of gristly, cubed meat. Since we were drunk or well on our way to getting there (Judee and I were splitting a bottle of wine, David and Art were drinking beers and we had all partaken of A & J’s wine aperitif before heading out to dinner) it was the perfect food for the moment. After that, to make a greasy dinner even lie heavier on the stomach, we headed off to find ice cream. And yes, we found it, ate it, and stumbled to our respective hotels to sleep it off.

Dinner on Tuesday was much more elegant but started once again with a wine from a box aperitif with Art and Judee – very fitting for our last dinner together given the meals we shared while riding. We ate at Café Turri - a beautiful restaurant, slightly touristy, that overlooks the ocean and the harbor. The sun was setting when we arrived and we were, as usual for us, the only people in the restaurant at 8:30pm. It was very nice to have dinner in a beautiful location, with linen napkins, real china and crystal, delicious food and most importantly, good friends. We each chose an entrée (which was rare for Art and Judee – they have been splitting entrees lately): David – Congrio (Conger Eel – famous in Chile), Me – Pastel de Jaiba (crab mush – so unlike me), Judee – Sea Bass (I think) and Art – Steak with Gorgonzola. A real treat for all of us. The wine of Chile that I have taken to drinking is called Carmenere – well the grape is called Carmenere (with some accent that I don’t know where to place) and it has a strong, rich scent and flavor similar to Syrahs but a little less spicy. Very yummy. We dined and drank and talked and enjoyed relaxing in a beautiful, comfortable setting.

The big change to Santiago came on Wednesday when we checked out of our expensive hotel and took an expensive cab ride to the big city. It was easier to take a cab than to try to figure out how to get the bike and all of our luggage into a bus – the taxi would pick us up from the Brighton and take us directly to our hotel, Chilhotel in the Provedencia neighborhood of Santiago.

A brief interlude while I watch some stupid horror movie on the T.V. in the hotel room – dead teenagers and all that.

Again, much of the first day here was spent walking about. After four months of traveling – I have found that this is the very best way to get to know an area. The first initial excursion is short – only a few blocks away from where you are staying then a return. Next, you branch out in a spiral pattern so that you don’t loose your way. After that, it’s a free for all and you can pretty much go in any direction you want (as long as you have a map). Actually, even without a map it is fun to explore and by going in circles it is difficult to become very lost.

So Santiago…the first full day was spent traipsing around the center of town. Ok. I have to say that Santiago is actually not the best city to visit if you want to spend a week in. It is not a beautiful city. The mountains are often fully or partially obscured by smog and haze. I was lucky to be able to see the Andes from the city and was able to enjoy the city without the traffic and without the people. And there are a lot of people here who just don’t understand the New York rules of walking on the sidewalk – keep moving, no groups more than 2 across, etc. They have the economy, but they have not figured out how to walk on the nice wide sidewalks yet.

The center does hold lots of attractions. The San Francisco church which was toppled in an earthquake in 1906 (I think, but don’t quote me on this) has been rebuilt with big stone walls and a beautiful (although much restored) wooden ceiling. This church is near a little neighborhood that looks a bit like some weird conglomerate European city. The buildings are a mishmash of styles but the streets are ever so quaintly cobbled – it’s sort of the pre-runner to some weird Disney version of Europe. The main peatonal of the city is a little disturbing. It is a huge shopping location with a few actual malls included and a Falabella on every corner, but the stores have the look of the 70’s – sort of rundown and seedy looking while presenting the face of a strong economy. I was shopping for a digital camera and the model are about 6-9 months behind while the prices are twice as much. I hope my camera holds out for another two months.

But the two shining stars of downtown Santiago are the Pre-columbian Art Museum and the Mercado. The museum has many of the same things that other museums of this type have, but truthfully, there is a much better selection and the special exhibit, which is about head coverings, is fantastic. They have developed a method of display that uses a shadowbox technique to show the impression of a figure on a screen wearing one of the hats. It is pretty impressive and I’m sure my description has not given it justice. In both the main and the temporary exhibit, the descriptions are given in English and Spanish, but somehow the Spanish descriptions are about two times as long as the English ones. I don’t think that it is all in the translation. However, there is usually enough information to give you the general idea of the display. The next great thing about Santiago is the Mercado. There are so many freaky kinds of fish on display and everyone in the restaurants tries to get you to come to theirs. We went to Yiyi, which was actually recommended by a New York Times article (if I were not lazy I would put a link to the article here!). It turns out to be a pretty good place with a limited but decent menu. I tried (and you would be so proud of me Michelle) Piala Maricosa which is pretty much seafood soup. There were clams, mussels, white fish, pink fish, some unidentifiable pink chewy things, and some weird gray things. The broth was surprisingly dull, with a lemongrass smell, but not a strong flavor of anything. It needed salt and the chili sauce that is on every table. But, even while trying it was something that I needed to do and I did enjoy the savor of the different types of seafood. David had fried merluz with rice and an onion/chili salad. It was great and the waiter was wonderful – he talked to me about the choices and explained all the other items on the menu. I had hoped to go back to try the other stuff, but have not, maybe in Chiloe.

The next day, Friday, we walked and walked and ended up in the Bellavista neighborhood. We had had dinner here the evening we arrived – an awful dinner at some restaurant that was supposed to be “authentic Peruvian” and “lively” and “great service” and it was none of these. The ceviche was way, way too acidic and I didn’t like the fish. But the company was great, an Englishman named David whom we met in Valpariso was celebrating his last night in Chile with dinner out and while the food was only ok, the company was great.

We took the funicular up to visit the Virgin on the hill who was happily settled amongst lots and lots of media antenna and then we took a round trip venture on some sky cars (forgive me, I cannot remember what they are really called) – ferrocarils, from one side of the hill to the other. Since the day was very cloudy you could not see the mountains, but this ride would provide an excellent view of the Andes otherwise – that is if you are fearless about the 1” gap in the doorway of the hanging car. You are pretty high up.

And then the great evening out – Astrid y Gaston – a restaurant that has garnered both yeahs and boos from the crowd. It was a great experience – the waiters put up with our baby Spanish and chatted with us in English when our Spanish failed. It turns out that the staff from Astrid y Gaston play futbol with the staff from Puento Fuy – the other great restaurant that I’ve been to in Santiago. And they trade recipes. Who knew? We had a great meal that I will describe in another post as I am now ½ a bottle of wine down, watching really bad horror movies and thinking about sleep.

Just a little update on my timeline:

Salta and waiting for the bike part
Cafayate and meeting Art & Judee
Sickness in Catamarca
Breakdowns and Flats in San Agustin del Valle Fertil
Mendoza and wine, wine, wine
Easter Island and statues and horseback riding
Valpariso & Santiago and David’s visit


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