Travelling Home From South America

Iguazu Falls was the conclusion of our trip to South America. I slept in due to being up so late the night before on the phone with Avianca and Air Canada. We packed our bags and got ready for breakfast. When it was time for breakfast the power in the kitchen was off due to a faulty circuit breaker. While they were repairing the circuit breaker we had some cold cuts, bread, fruit, and cereal. Eventually the power was turned back on and we got our morning coffee.

After breakfast we walked a nearby corner store to get some more bottled water and some more Kleenex as we were both still suffering from a cold. We then walked to Tres Fronteras, which is a monument where the Iguazu River joins with the Parana River. On the west is Paraguay, in the Northeast corner is Brazil, and in the Southeast corner is Argentina. It gave an extremely unique perspective into the different levels of wealth of each of the three countries as you could see the three varying levels of development.

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After visiting Tres Fronteras we walked back to the hotel and ordered a Taxi for 700 Argentinian Pesos ($21.50) to Brazil’s Cataratas International Airport (IGR). The taxi driver helped us fill out all of the paperwork required for the border and drove us to IGR, with a very quick and painless stop at the border to process our paperwork. I have dual citizenship so I do not require a Brazilian visa, but C required a visa (which she obtained beforehand).

Once at the airport it was confirmed that our flight was not going to work, so we took an earlier flight on a different route to get to Sao Paulo, which is where we needed to be to get home on a later Air Canada flight. We flew on a 3 week old Airbus A320neo, which was extremely comfortable. It’s too bad they’re going to have to give it back as they’re in huge financial difficulties and are in bankruptcy protection at the moment. The Airbus A320neo is extremely quiet on takeoff, even quieter than the new Boeing 737 MAX.

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Once arriving in Sao Paulo we had about 8 hours to kill before boarding our Sao Paulo to Toronto flight on Air Canada. We checked into our complimentary Star Alliance lounge in Sao Paulo to eat, drink, shower, and relax before boarding our Air Canada Boeing 777-300ER. I ended up upgrading us to Business Class for a small fee due to my annoyance the day before. I was situated in 7D and C was situated in 7G. I had a delicious dinner and a few beers before falling asleep for the majority of the flight. The flight was extremely smooth and despite leaving 1.5 hours behind schedule ended up only arriving 30 minutes late.

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Upon arrival in Toronto we cleared Canadian customs and went to the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge. Canadian customs took a while to clear because they were not even open as we were the first flight to arrive. We had to wait for the staff to show up for their shift, and they also were late. We had some coffee and breakfast in the lounge before making our way to our return flight to Calgary. We were warned we would be experiencing an extremely turbulent takeoff and first hour of the flight as a huge storm was rolling in. We ended up being the last flight out of Toronto. That was the most turbulent flight that I have ever been on and did give me a bit of anxiety.

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Iguazu Falls

We spent our second last day of our South American trip exploring Iguazu Falls. In my personal opinion the Argentinian side is much better than the Brazilian side. About 80% of Iguazu Falls is on the Argentinian side and I feel the views are much better.

We woke up early so we could get a good head start on the day, but the weather had a different idea for us. There was torrential downpour that delayed our departure until approximately 10:00am. There was so much rain coming down that the pool overflowed and the restaurant where we eat our breakfast was starting to flood.

Eventually at 10:00am we set off and took a local bus for 130 Argentinian Pesos per person ($4.25 CDN) to Iguazu Falls. The bus ride took about 30 minutes. Expect to pay the same amount on your return trip.

The entrance cost to the Argentinian side is 700 Argentinian Pesos ($23 CDN). There are 3 routes on the Argentinian side (Lower Loop, Upper Loop, and The Devil’s Throat), as well as a boat trip to San Martin Island, but the boat trip was not operating today as the water levels were too low. We completed the routes in the following order: Upper Loop, The Devil’s Throat, and then finally the Lower Loop). Looking back at it I think we completed it in the right order because it was still raining when we arrived and I found the Upper Loop had the least exciting views of the three.

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After completing the Upper Loop we were hungry so we decided to grab some food from the fast food restaurant near the middle of the park. We both ordered some cheeseburgers. The cheeseburgers caught the interest of the local Capuchin monkeys and coati’s. Coati’s are similar to raccoons and are equally as annoying despite being cute.

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The sun was starting to come out and the rain had dried up by the time we started to walk to the Devil’s Throat. The experience and views are out of this world. You can hear the roar of the falls and the amount of mist coming from the falls is incredible. We became completely drenched in water from the mist, as well as my camera!

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After completing the Devil’s Throat we walked the Lower Loop, which in my opinion provided the most impressive views of Iguazu Falls. On this loop you really get to experience how large and impressive these falls are.

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The Brazilian side just has the one route and takes about an hour to complete. You can almost walk right into the Devil’s Throat on the Brazilian side so you’ll be sure to get soaked. The Brazilian side keeps you mostly further away but you can get some pretty decent panoramic shots. The entrance cost on the Brazilian side is 63 reals ($21.50 CDN).

After exploring Iguazu Falls we went back to our hotel to pack for our return flight home the next day. I tried to check in to the flight and had difficulty as it said the flight couldn’t be found. I had to phone Avianca and Air Canada and spent numerous hours on the phone and was up quite late trying to figure it out. Avianca is in financial hardship and had to return about 30 percent of its fleet the previous week and because of this they cancelled our Iguazu Falls to Sao Paulo flight and didn’t notify me. Air Canada (Avianca’s partner) told me to just show up at the airport tomorrow and see what they can do for us.

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Chile – Day 13 – Lago Grey Glacier Tour

Today we woke up at 7:30am and made breakfast as well as more salami sandwiches for lunch. We left the loft at 8:30am and drove the 2.5 hours towards Torres Del Paine National Park. The drive went slower this time as traffic was heavier and there was some construction on the road.

We checked in at the main office before entering the park and heading towards the Lago Grey Hotel, where we checked in for the Lago Grey glacier tour. The hotel lobby is absolutely beautiful and overlooks Lago Grey, and you can even see chunks of icebergs floating!

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After checking into the tour at the hotel we were asked to drive a few kilometers down the road to this beautiful cafe where we could relax until noon before starting a one hour trek along the lake to the catamaran. Lago Grey is fairly low at this time of the year so the catamaran can’t come to the hotel. I had a coffee and Catherine had a diet coke. We decided it would be an opportune time to also eat lunch.

After relaxing in the cafe we started the trek towards where the catamaran docks. The trek starts out by crossing a rickety suspension bridge that only 6 people at a time can occupy it. There was a park warden to ensure the bridge was not overloaded with people.

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The trek continued through a forested area for about 15 minutes before ending up at the edge of Lago Grey. We walked along a raised sediment area of the lake towards where the catamaran docks. We ran into Martin & Sophie again at the waiting area and talked for about 15 minutes before the Catamaran arrived.

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After boarding the catamaran we were instructed to wear life jackets when we go outside, but we didn’t have to wear them inside like we did for the Magdalena tour. We were onboard the catamaran for roughly 3 hours and got to see 2 different glaciers at the opposite end of the lake. On the return trip we had some pisco sours made from 10000 year old ice; they were delicious and the ice was the clearest ice I’ve ever seen. The wind picked up significantly on the way back and made from some slightly choppy waves, but it was no problem for our catamaran.

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After docking we were hit with some 120-160 kph winds and it was comical watching ourselves and others barely able to walk back along the lake. It was already 4:30pm by the time we got back to the truck so we decided to drive back to the loft and make dinner.

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Catherine cooked us some fajitas for dinner and then we watched an episode of Mayday before going to bed. Mayday is a Canadian documentary investigating air crashes, near-crashes, hijackings, etc. There are currently 19 seasons and the show is still going strong. It is one of my favorite shows on television.

Be sure to check back tomorrow, or the day after for the next installment in my Chile series!

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Chile – Day 12 – Torres Del Paine National Park

Today I woke up at 7:00am. Catherine was still sleeping so I made us some coffee as well as some cheese and eggs on toast for us. Once I had made breakfast I woke Catherine up and we had breakfast together. After breakfast I made us some salami, cheese and avocado sandwiches for our lunch later on. We quickly got ready and hopped into the truck for a 2 hour drive to Torres Del Paine National Park. During our drive the scenery just kept getting more beautiful.

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Torres Del Paine National Park encompasses mountains, glaciers, lakes and rivers in the southern Chilean Patagonia and is known for its three massive granite peaks, which are actually an eastern spur of the Andes mountains. The park receives about 250,000 visitors each year and is a very popular hiking destination in Chile. I would absolutely come back here to hike more than the one hike that I did here, and would easily spend a week or two here just hiking.

The entrance to Torres Del Paine is setup similar to a passport office but has multiple steps. “Step 1” has a booth where you fill out a double sided piece of paper with a lot of your personal information, including your address as well as your passport number. After you fill out the paper you take it to “step 2” which stamps the paper and takes your money; in this case 21000 Chilean Pesos ($42.30 CDN) for 3 days of entry. “Step 3” involves taking your stamped piece of paper over to a different desk where they will stamp it again with a different stamp and provide you with instructions and a very detailed map.

After checking into the park we slowly drove to Mirador Condor Trail (a hike I wanted to do), while taking multiple stops for photos. We arrived at the Mirador Condor Trailhead at about 10:30am. The hike takes about 1.5 to 2 hours return and has an elevation gain of roughly 200 metres over 4km (2km each way) and has a beautiful view from the top overlooking Pehoe Lake. When we started the hike the sky was fairly clear except around the three granite peaks of the Paine mountain range but the temperature was a cool 15 degrees Celsius. We were both wearing jackets when we started the hike, but I quickly took my jacket off because I was starting to get hot. Catherine kept hers on the entire time because she is usually always too cold.

Half way up to the viewpoint we noticed the wind started picking up, but we had no idea what we were in for until we actually got to the top. At the top we could barely stand up and we later learned in the day the top regularly sees 160 kph winds, which is very substantial. At the top I took the opportunity to make some hilarious faces with the wind morphing my mouth into all sorts of ungodly positions. The viewpoint is absolutley breathtaking. On one side you see the beautiful shimmering turquoise coloured Pehoe Lake and on the other side you see the remains of a 2011-2012 fire that an Israeli backpacker deliberately set by lighting up some paper rolls. The fire burned 176 square kilometers of the reserve, destroying 36 square kilometers of native forest, which you can see in my photographs. The Israeli government sent in reforestation experts to the park and has committed to donate trees to replant the affected areas.

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While on our way down from the top we ran into an older couple named Martin and Sophie who were visiting from the Netherlands. We talked for a bit and then realized that we were going to be on the same Lago Grey glacier tour tomorrow. After talking for a bit I was really starting to deteriorate because of my cold and being out in the cold wind so we head back towards the truck. The return only took about 30 minutes and we even saw some condor birds on the way down; they’re huge!

Once we arrived at the truck we were both quite hungry so we ate the salami, cheese and avocado sandwiches that I made for lunch. We continued on driving throughout the park stopping at multiple lookouts and doing short hikes. Another one of my favorite stops was the Salto Grande waterfall. It’s not a very large waterfall but the colours were absolutely stunning.

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We ended up leaving the park at around 5:30pm and arrived back at our loft around 7:30pm. On the way back we passed Puerto Natales airport where I saw a BAE-146 (Avro RJ-100) taking off. These old workhorses are a dying bread and most have come to South America to spend their last years before they get turned into scrap metal. Many work for the airline DAP which flies to Antarctica.

Catherine made us some pasta with chicken and some red sauce for dinner. I wasn’t feeling too good so we laid in bed and watched “The Impossibles” movie. I’m surprised that I had never seen the 2movie before but it was actually pretty good and is based on a true story on a family that was affected by the 2004 Thailand floods.

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Chile – Day 7 – Calama & Alto Loa National Reserve

Today we woke up at 7:00am and had some delicious complementary breakfast, probably the best we had on the trip to date. We checked out of the hotel and started a 3 hour drive towards Alto Loa National Reserve. On the way to the reserve we stopped at Lasana and visited some prehistoric ruins that overlooked the valley. The ruins date back to the 12th century. On our way back to walking to the car we noticed a young local girl trying to break into our rental car. I hit the panic button and she casually backed away but still sat on a wall near the car. When I approached the car to get in she still stayed there. C had to go to the washroom so she went and the girl followed her in there. When C was coming back to the car the girl was talking to her loudly in Spanish demanding Pesos. C got in the car and I backed out and started to drive off when we noticed the girl get on her phone. About two minutes down the road there was a woman (probably the girls mother) who was on the phone and standing in the middle of the road demanding that we pull over. I drove around her quite quickly and sped off into the distance. We deduced that they were trying to either steal from tourists or demand compensation for the “free” ruins.

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We continued our journey towards Alto Loa was created 14 years ago in 2005 and is Chile’s largest reserve. The park is full of mountains, hills, flamingo’s, and guanacos (llama’s). An interesting fact about Guanacos is that they can live in some of the most hostile environments on earth, some living in areas where it has not rained for over 50 years. fog that condenses to water droplets on cacti and lichens that cling to the cacti. The lichens soak it up like a sponge, which are then eaten by the Guanacos.

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We checked into our hotel; Geotel Calama and were welcomed with a pisco sour and mango sour as welcome drinks, which were delicious and quite strong. The hotel was well appointed and even had a small kitchen so that we could prepare and cook food. After checking in we went to the nearby Lider (Walmart) to get food for dinner and for tomorrow. Dinner was simple; we made mushroom soup. After dinner I still wasn’t feeling great so I had a bath and listened to podcasts. After my bath it was time to go to bed. The bed ended up being extremely terrible for a brand new hotel… it felt like a broken mattress that transferred movement very easily.

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Chile – Day 6 – Travel Day & San Pedro De Atacama

Today we woke up at 5:15am because we had the airport shuttle departing for SCL Airport at 6:00am. Security was a total breeze which makes you wonder if they’re even looking at the screens or peoples tickets and passports. I recall when I travelled to Peru in 2014 with my father that there basically was no security for internal flights; this basically gives the same perception. We then purchased some Starbucks; I had a drip coffee and C had a Chai Tea Latte. Our 8:15am flight boarded quickly and we arrived at Calama Airport (CJC) at 10:50am.

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The day fell apart from here and it started with the Budget rental car agency. The rental car took almost three hours to figure out and we were given about ten different excuses as to where the car was, but it was obvious they were not prepared. I left a nasty 1 star review on Google Reviews during the whole process. While waiting for the car we talked with a bunch of people dropped off cars at other rental agencies and they said the entire park was closed due to flooding and heavy rain; which was not great news for us… more on that later! After finally leaving the airport at close to 2:00pm, three hours later we went to Lider (Walmart) and purchased water and a few groceries and started our adventure.

We drove one hour to San Pedro de Atacama and saw the Valley of the Moon from the top of road. The weather looked okay at this point in time and we had yet to see the flooding until when we drove into the town. That’s when things really changed… the roads were red mud and completely flooded. We drove to our hotel; Hotel La Casa de Don Tomas. The hotel was absolutely beautiful and we were greeted with Champagne. After checking in we decided to walk into town and get some dinner at Las Delicias de Carmen. We both ordered vegetable lasagna with a side of potatoes and quinoa. We were told the portion was large and could probably share it, but we didn’t heed to her advice… we should have though! While we were waiting for our meals to come out there was a torrential downpour and the power in the entire city shut off. Our server casually came over with a candle as if this were a regular occurrence. We ordered a thousand layer cake to go for C as it was her birthday. We wanted to have it while watching a movie back at the hotel, but sadly with no power there was no internet.

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We watched a previously downloaded episode of Marvelous Miss Maisel, the second last one before we’re all caught up. If you have not seen this series I highly recommend it! I came up with a plan B for tomorrow for us to explore Reserva Nacional Alto Loa. It was still raining, my cold was getting worse, and it was time to go to bed.

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Chile – Day 4 – Valparaiso & Vin Del Mar

Today we decided to sleep in a bit until 8am. We ended up having a buffet breakfast down in the lobby of the hotel since it was only $9 and included coffee. After breakfast we got ready and started walking along the waterfront to Vin Del Mar. The waterfront was very relaxing and was a mix of a modern reconstructed boardwalk and old decaying train depot buildings with abandoned trains along the side. We noticed a ton of homeless dogs and with a quick Google search we determined that there are an estimated 2.5 million stray dogs in Chile and the canine population is growing faster than the human population. A sobering statistics is that with 17 million Chilean’s; the canine population is slated to surpass the human population in as soon as 6-10 years. Something needs to be done about this.

Half way to Vina Del Mar we came to Portales, where there was a small beach with some food booths setup. We were not quite yet hungry so we decided that we would come back here later on. At this point in time it would have been nice to walk along the waterfront more but I had drank way too much water and needed to find a bathroom.

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We boarded the train to Vina Del Mar and found a Starbucks to go to the bathroom and we ordered some Frappuccino’s. Catherine had Java Chip Frappuccino and I had a half sweet Cookies & Cream Frappuccino. I was starting to run low on money so we stopped in at the bank and picked up some more money before continuing our walk along the waterfront. The beach in Vin Del Mar was very beautiful and packed full of people, including some people fishing from the boardwalk. After walking along the beach we explored the city of Vina del Mar. We saw a flower clock that had real moving hands, a magician that appeared to be floating, a castle, and an old Palace.

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After exploring Vina Del Mar we took the train back to Portales, where we both got delicious freshly made empanadas for only $4 each, which is about double the going rate they were in Santiago, but this is more of a touristy area. I had pulled beef, chorizo, mushrooms and cheese; while Catherine had chicken, mushrooms and cheese. After eating our food we took the train back to the hotel, where we relaxed for a few hours before venturing out back into the cerro’s of Valparaiso.

We head back out at 6:00pm to explore the cerro of Artilleria. This was definitely one of the more dodgy areas of town and has a rating of “orange” on the scale of neighbor safety. The scale includes the colours from Red, Orange, Yellow and Green; with red being the least safe to green being the safest. I’m glad we visited it though because it was quite the unique community with beautiful views of the port and entire city, as well as some unique art. While we were up in the community we met this family that was visiting from Montreal. The dad was originally from Valparaiso and moved away when he was only 12 years old. This was his first time visiting since he moved away. He told us that practically nothing has changed since he was a child, but they were trying to do a better job of preserving some buildings and the funiculars.

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