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 – Days 10 & 11 – Travel Day, Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales

Today we both woke up at 6:45am. We finished packing our bags and had our complimentary buffet breakfast. Today the breakfast was much better than the previous two days with a better variety of food. Perhaps its because we went a bit earlier than previous days.

We drove to the airport and I returned the rental car to Budget. It actually went quite quickly without any issues. We went through security, which took about 2 minutes since we were the only ones in line. After heading through security we purchased some bottled water for the plane and then sat in a coffee shop and had some coffee’s before boarding a Sky Airlines flight to Santiago.

Upon arriving in Santiago we purchased some McDonald’s for lunch. I had a 1/4 Pounder with Cheese, while C had a Big Mac and fries. We both shared a cola. We had a few hours to burn at the airport so I did some photo editing, and C did some drawing. We purchased some sandwiches from Starbucks for dinner on the next flight. While waiting for the flight we noticed 8 PDI (Investigations Police of Chile) surround an incoming LATAM flight and wait for the passengers to deplane. They surrounded a guy and took him away from the plane. We were not sure what it was all about but I suspect he was a wanted person of interest.

The next flight was a Sky Airlines flight from Santiago to Punta Arena’s. The flight was one of the smoothest flights I have ever been on and the sky was completely clear with beautiful breathtaking views of Torres Del Paine National Park prior to our arrival at Punta Arena’s.

After arriving at Punta Arena’s airport I went to the Europcar rental check-in desk and the experience was a night and day difference to my experience with Budget in Calama. I was upgraded to a very nice fully loaded Nissan NV300 diesel truck and the whole check in process took less than ten minutes.

We loaded our bags into the truck and drove to our accommodation for the night; Hostal Ventisqueros. It was a cute B&B style accommodation run by this very nice lady who didn’t speak any English but we got by with Google Translate. One humorous thing to note about the hotel was the extremely small bath tub.

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After checking in we purchased some groceries for the morning breakfast and then went for a walk along the Punta Arenas boardwalk. The sunset was absolutely beautiful and we took many photos. Sadly it was then time to head to bed because we had to get up early in the morning for a Penguin Tour!

The next day we had to wake up at 5:00am, as the Penguin Tour started at 6:00am. We drove to a nearby coffee shop to get some coffees and we ate the food that we had purchased the night before. We drove downtown to the Solo Expediciones tour office. The tour was a bit late starting because of numerous late arrivals, but the buses eventually set off at around 6:45am. During the bus ride the girl next to me got sick and yacked all over the floor, getting a bit on my jacket. I felt really bad for her because she was about to be getting on a boat. Her dad took everything in good stride and helped to clean it up the best he could.

The bus arrived at the dock at around 7:30am. We boarded two large zodiac style boats and heat towards Magdalena Island. Before we head to the island we took a quick stop close to Isla Marta where there was literally thousands of sea lions and birds bathing in the sun. It was an incredible sight to see.

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The next stop was Magdalena Island. We were only allowed one hour on the island as they want to try to minimize the amount of distress that we cause the penguins. This was especially important at this time of the year because they were just having their baby chicks. It was such an amazing experience to see thousands upon thousands of penguins on the island. The average amount of penguins on the island is said to be about 300,000! Most of the island is roped off and people follow a set route that takes about one hour at a snails pace. This gives everyone ample opportunity to take photographs of the penguins.

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After boarding the zodiacs to head back to land we were greeted with pisco sour’s, cookies and coffee. The pisco sours were very strong! The seas were extremely calm today and we were told we were pretty lucky to have such a beautiful and calm day. We arrived back on land, boarded a bus (different one this time because we wanted to avoid the bus we took where the girl had her episode), and took the bus back to the Solo Expediciones tour office. We arrived back at the office at around noon.

When I went out to my truck I had a panic because I saw what appeared to be a parking ticket, but it turns out it was just a parking slip that I had to pay for parking in a paid zone. I wasn’t sure how this worked so I was a bit panicked. At first I decided that perhaps I would ignore it, but then I didn’t want to get into trouble. I decided that we should go for lunch and that I could ask one of the people there how the parking system worked in Punta Arenas.

For lunch we went to La Marmita. The server explained to me how the parking system works; basically you have to find a person that prints the slips to settle up the tab. I ran out to go find one of the people while C stayed behind at the restaurant. Turns out its actually harder to find these people than I would have thought. I spent a good 20 minutes literally running around to find one of these people. I eventually found one and settled the tab. While I was gone C ordered me a pisco sour because she could see that I was a bit stressed out. Upon my return I ordered a guanaco (llama) stew and she ordered some seafood soup as well as a delicious ravioli. We both agreed that this was one of the best restaurants that we’ve ever eaten at. The price for this reflected that at nearly $80 CDN.

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We spend the afternoon walking around Punta Arenas, before purchasing groceries at the local Unimarc. Punta Arenas has numerous very well preserved Art Nouveau and Art Deco style buildings, which excited me as both are my favorite styles of architecture. Art Nouveau was prominent between 1890 and 1910, and Art Deco was prominent between 1910 and 1939. I have wrote about these in detail in numerous other posts but two that come to mind with lots of photos are my USA Route 66 trip in 2018 (link), and my New Zealand trip in 2016 (link).

We purchased enough groceries for the next 3 days in Puerto Natales. Groceries down here are a lot more expensive; 3 days worth of food cost nearly $80 CDN.

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It was time to start our 3 hour drive to Puerto Natales. The drive was long and boring, but about 15-20 minutes away from Puerto Natales the scenery changed and became extremely beautiful and we were getting excited for what was the come for tomorrow!

We checked into our accommodation; DT Loft (Dorotea Loft), which is run by the local ice cream store in the front. The ice cream store runs four of these beautiful mid-century modern lofts. The price was actually very affordable at $360 for 3 nights. We both agreed it was the cutest place we’ve ever stayed at. The loft had a beautiful blue 1950’s themed kitchen and living room area. From the living room you step up into the bedroom loft area, which houses an exceptionally comfortable king sized bed. At the very back of the loft is a gorgeous well appointed bathroom with a rainfall shower.

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After settling in we made some gourmet nachos for dinner. After dinner I messed around on my computer for a bit while C messed around on her iPad before we both head to bed.

Check back tomorrow for our adventures to Torres Del Pain park!

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Chile – Day 9 – Calama & Antafagasta

Today we woke up at 7:30am. I was starting to feel a bit better today already because of the decongestant medication. We had the complimentary buffet breakfast and set off towards the coastal town of Antafagasta, about a 2.5 hour drive west from Calama.

Something we both noted on the drive to Antafagasta was the great conditions of the highway and the fast driving speed of 120 kph that was allowed. About 2/3 of the way to Antafagasta we came across a toll that cost 1850 Chilean peso’s ($3.70). This is where they’re getting some of the money for the high quality highway.

On the way to Antafagasta we stopped at the Hand of the Desert, a giant sculpture of a hand emerging from the desert sand. The iron and concrete sculpture was constructed by the Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal in 1992. It’s exaggerated size is said to emphasize human vulnerability and helplessness. We took some photos and continued on our way to Antafagasta. Upon arriving in Antafagasta we stopped at Don Taco for some lunch. I had spicy chicken taco’s and C had chicken fajita’s. We both agreed that this was some of the best Mexican food that we’ve ever had.

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After eating lunch we drove to the Huanchaca Ruins Museum where we explored the ruins of a refinery that was built in 1888 and closed in 1902. The refinery resembles something of a castle. The refinery would process about 100 tons of mineral per day, out of which almost 20 tons of silver were extracted each month and send to various destinations around the globe.

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After exploring the ruins we walked along the beach and boardwalk before driving back to Calama. On our way back into Calama we stopped at the grocery store and got some tortilla chips, an avocado, a tomato, and Stella beer for dinner. We made guacamole and drank beer while watching the other half of the movie we started the previous night. We ended up going to bed around 11:00pm because we had to get up relatively early for a mid morning flight, and I wanted to give myself ample time to return the rental car because it was such an ordeal to get it a few days prior.

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Chile – Day 8 – Anita & Chacabuco Ghost Towns

Today I woke up at 6:45am coughing uncontrollably. My cold was definitely getting worse. C was still sleeping and I let her sleep until 8:00am and then woke her up. We had the complimentary buffet breakfast in the hotel and then set off to explore.

Today we visited a very famous Chilean ghost town near Calama called Chacabuco. On the drive out to Chacabuco we came across another ghost town called Anita. Anita was an abandoned Nitrate or “Saltpeter” town that was founded in 1902 and abandoned in 1912. The town fell into quick disarray and is not that well preserved. Vandalism covers most of the Anita property. Our next stop was Chacabuco; the main highlight of the day.

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Chacabuco is an abandoned Nitrate or “Saltpeter” town that was founded in 1924 by the Lautaro Nitrate Company and soon fell into ruin as the nitrate mining boom in Chile came to an abrupt end in the 1930’s The Germans had invented synthetic nitrate and by the end of the 1930’s most of Chile’s nitrate industry came to and end. At one point in time nitrate provided 50% of Chile’s GDP. Chacabuco finally shut its doors in 1938, where it remained closed until 1973. In 1973 things took a dark twist and the town was reopened as a concentration camp during the Pinochet regime in 1973. Chile was under a Military dictatorship from 1973-1990.

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I was really starting to struggle with my cold so we drove back to Calama and went to a pharmacy to get some decongestant medicine. We spent the late afternoon resting before venturing out for some delicious corn and egg pizza from La Pizzata; yes you read that correctly it was corn and egg.

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After pizza we walked back to the hotel and watched half of a movie before going 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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Chile – Day 3 – Valparaiso

Today we woke up at 7:30am. We packed our bags while waiting for the cafe’s around us to open. Most of the cafe’s don’t open until 8-8:30am. We decided to go to a coffee shop called Coffee & Me. C had a cappuccino and I had an Americano. The food at this cafe was very expensive so we decided to get food elsewhere. Across the street from Coffee & Me was a NesCafe branded coffee shop were we both go panini’s for $4 and some more beverages before heading back to the hotel. C had a Chai Tea Latte and I had another Americano. As you can tell I don’t really like sweet beverages very often.

We told the hotel that we were checking out a day early because we were going to head to Valparaiso. After checking out of the hotel we made our way to the Red Metro line right below our hotel and took it all the way to the other end of the line and got off at Pajaritos station.

After exiting the metro at Pajaritos station we went to the TurBus checkin counter to purchase tickets to Valparaiso, which ended up only being $18/pp return-trip, which was a bargain compared to the cost of the tickets online. We boarded a 10:20am bus to Valparaiso. During the bus ride we played a few games; hangman and 94% (a game on her iPad where you guess what words are associated with a certain theme).

The bus arrived in Valparaiso at 12:15pm. Within 3 minutes of exiting the bus C realized she left her jacket on the bus and when we went to go back to the bus it was gone. We talked to the check-in counter at the bus terminal and they said the bus driver would return it within 30 minutes. We were skeptical and thought the jacket would be gone, but we waited around for 30 minutes and sure enough the jacket turned up. What we think happened was the bus driver stopped and met another bus on the highway back to Santiago and did the exchange. This level of service goes above and beyond the level of service I’d expect from any company and TurBus gets a 5/5 star review from me.

We exited the bus terminal and walked towards the train station where we boarded an LRT style train towards Puerto train station, just two stops away. After exiting the train station we checked into our hotel; ibis Valparaiso, which was right at the train station. After dropping off our bags we went exploring the cerro’s (hills) of Valparaiso; which are officially recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site.

We started off by grabbing some panini’s from the self titled Panini Cafe. I had a cubano panini and C had a chicken, cheese and mushrooms. We visited Plaza Sotomayor, Cerro Concepcion, Cerro Carcel, Cerro Alegre, Cerro La Loma, Cerro Pantheon and Cerro Bellavista. The other Cerro’s are known to be pretty dodgy areas and therefore decided not to visit them. We took some classic photos such as climbing the very long and tall Valparaiso Stairs, Piano Stairs, and the steepest and oldest funicular in the city; Ascensor Reina Victoria, which opened in 1902.

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Below Ascensor Reina Victoria is where we had some dinner at Altamira Brewery (Casa Cervecera Altamira). I had a black IPA (7.5%) and Regular IPA (6%), while C had a Pina Colada. All the drinks were fantastic. For dinner we shared a plate of fried covered in cheese and pulled beef brisket. After dinner we decided to walk back to the hotel and watch an episode of Marvelous Miss Maisel. If you have not watched that show I highly recommend it!

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Chile – Day 2 – Santiago

Today we woke up at 7:00am. We got ready fairly quickly and then walked to a nearby Starbucks. I had a regular drip coffee and C had a Chai Tea Latte. We then walked back to Santa Lucia Hill and explored the hill. Santa Lucia Hill sits on top of a volcano that last erupted an estimated 15 million years ago. On top of the hill is a beautiful park, chapel, and Fort Hidalgo. Fort Hidalgo was recently restored and reopened to the public and traditionally a cannon shot is fired at exactly noon.

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After exploring Santa Lucia Hill we walked over to Plaza De Armas. Plaza De Armas is the main square of Santiago. It is the centerpiece of the initial layout of Santiago and the square grid pattern of the city was laid out from here. Santiago (officially known as Santiago de Chile) was originally founded in 1541 by the Spanish conqueror Pedro de Valdivia. Santiago has a population of 6.3 million people and is home to 40% of the entire population of Chile.

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Right across from Plaza De Armas is Cathedral Metropolitana de Santiago which took 52 years to build and was first opened in 1800. Previous cathedrals stood in its spot but were destroyed by earthquakes. Chile is known to have some of the world’s largest earthquakes in recorded history, with the largest being the 9.5 magnitude earthquake on May 22, 1960 near Valdivia, Chile. That particular earthquake left 2 million Chileans homeless, killed approximately 6000 Chileans, and created Tsunami’s that reached as far as Honshu, Japan. The 18 foot high waves reached Honshu about 22 hours after the earthquake and left 1600 homes destroyed and killed 185 people.

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After visiting the beautiful Cathedral Metropolitana de Santiago we walked through the nearby Central Market and over to Centro Cultural Estacion Mapocho, which was a former railway station (built in 1913) that was converted to a cultural center/musuem. The beautiful semi-restored train station is built in Art Nouveau style architecture, which is some of my favorite architecture, alongside Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern. You can refer back to my France blog posts, among others to see some other beautiful Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture.

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We continued exploring the area and came across a hip modern area called Eurocentro, and narrowly avoided a protest in front of the University of Chile. There were about 30-40 armed military personnel with riot shields ready to pounce if things got out of control.

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After that we took the Yellow Metro line from Santa Ana station to Departamental station. Santiago is home to one of my favorite style of Metro systems; the rubber-tyred Metro. There are only about 25 systems like these in the world and I’ve been on about 1/4 of them. The rubber-tyred Metro was first applied to the Paris Metro in 1951, and is also used in Montreal, Canada. The benefits are better grip, quieter, and a better ride.

After exiting Departamental station we walked to the nearby community of San Miguel, which is a rundown lower income community with many tenement buildings. The appeal of this community to us was the huge open street market and the massive murals on the sides of the tenement buildings.

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We were getting hungry and were in search of Arepas, which is a Venezuelan & Columbian food that is fairly popular to Chile as well. Arepas is made of ground maize dough and is cut in half and stuffed with cheese, meat, tomatoes, etc. You can have it in many different styles. We took the Metro and walked to numerous places on google maps that supposedly sold Arepas, but sadly they were closed or didn’t sell them. We settled on some amazing freshly made pizza at a nearby restaurant. We ordered a Neapolitan style pizza, which absolutely delicious.

After eating we explored the rustic community of Varrio Italia, before walking back to the hotel and calling it a night. Originally we were supposed to stay one additional day in Santiago but we opted to go to Valparaiso a day early starting tomorrow.

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