Valdivia’s heart & soul

You know you’re at home in a new country when you establish your local hangout. This place became my touchstone and main meeting point. When everything else was unfamiliar, I knew I could come here to see the same people and begin to adjust to this new town.

This spot is near and dear to my heart. A Berkeley and San Francisco vibe right here in Valdivia. Navigado mulled wine. Pink Floyd. A warm fire. This is La Ultima Frontera, my favorite cafe-bar in Chile.

The front door, bearing stickers from worthy causes.

“La Ultima Frontera” means the last frontier, or the final border. My friend Maribel explained to me that it could have to do with the Mapuche, the indigenous people of Southern Chile, and their struggle to retain their land as it was colonized by foreigners.

Crafty

Salud!

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Perú

I scribbled more phrases, the pages becoming chicken-scratch notes to anyone but us.  “I’m going to Lima,” I wrote, is, “Yo voy a Lima.” 

Next, the past tense.

Our lesson sprawled across two pages.  When there was no more room, I ripped  out the pages for her to keep. One page tore, leaving behind a piece containing a few sentences. She delicately extracted the missing piece.

“I studied English, but not too much,” she smiled.

Giving an impromptu English lesson in Cusco’s San Pedro Market was one of the moments I’ll always remember. She helped me with my Spanish, and we talked about what it’s like learning a language.

Apart from Cusco’s markets, the streets are full of people selling Chica Morada, a sweet drink made from purple corn, sunglasses, paintings, roasted cuy (guinea pig) and coca toffees. Then there are the drums thundering from the Plaza de Armas, where everyday seems to bring a new festival or gathering. Last night was Carnival de Cusco, with elaborate dancing and masks. The next morning, police lined the steps of the church as teachers staged a peaceful protest for higher wages.

Like most others here, we came for the new Seventh Wonder of the World: Machu Picchu. It started with a two-hour bus ride to Ollantaytambo, a town in Peru’s Sacred Valley. From there, we caught the train to Agua Calientes, the last town before Machu Picchu.

Making lunch at the train station.

Peru Rail, which of course isn’t owned by Peru, but by the Orient Express.

Agua Calientes, the last town before Machu Picchu.

The next day, Cami and I woke up at 4 am to begin the hike to the top. Flashlight in hand, we began the ascent at 5 am. Two hours later, we reached the top, where the fog and silence were overwhelming.

Sunrise

Every day, over 3,000 people visit Machu Picchu. As the morning continued, so did the flow of tourists. Big, noisy tour groups, pairs of backpackers, children, old, and young couples mixed in the Inca ruins.

No matter how many people arrived, you can always find a quiet spot in this stone labyrynth.

Desert sun and cliff roads

I’m writing from Arica, Chile, a surf town 12 miles from the Peruvian border. I’ve embarked on a 3 week solo trip to the north of Chile and Peru.  I’ll meet up with a friend in Cusco, but until then, I’m traveling solo.

Buses in Chile are safe and very comfortable, but I just got off a creepy one. The 12-hour overnight trip from San Pedro was eerie.

We left at 8:30 pm, driving into the Atacama desert with nothing but sand dunes under a full moon. We were on the Panamerican Highway, which goes up the coast of South America. And this seemed to be it’s most desolate part.

Sometime during the night, I looked out the window and that saw that the bus was hugging a cliff with no gaurd rail. I was on the second story, and below me was a canyon, hundreds of feet below. I’ve never been afraid of heights, but something about being on a top-heavy bus didn’t sit well. The bus began taking the turns, as we drove past white crosses scattered across the cliffside in memory of others who’d gone over the edge. It was hard to sleep that night.

Apart from the bus ride, the San Pedro de Atacama part of the trip was great. San Pedro is a touristy town in the middle of nowhere in Chile’s Atacama desert. It’s a popular jumping off point for exploring the surrounding area, where the borders of Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina intersect.

Here is a bit of life in the driest desert in the world…

One of the main streets in San Pedro

Chile’s is divided into 15 regions. We’re in region 2

Old cars
Photo by Karin Kleine

The first day I arrived in San Pedro I joined some people from the organization StartUp Chile. We all went to swim in Laguna Cejar. The only person who stayed in the water for more than 15 seconds was the Finnish guy we were with. The water was freezing, but floating is easy since it’s so salty.

The Scandinavian braves the ice water. I swear it’s in their DNA.

Salt

Laguna Cejar

Valle de la Muerte.

Valle de la Luna

Chile’s El Tatio geyers are one of the region’s main draws. Along with New Zealand, Iceland, and the USA, Chile has one of the world’s biggest geyser fields.

Since they’re most active at dawn, it meant waking up at 3:30 am to go see them. After the van picked us up at 4 am we began the two hour trip into the Andes mountains.

We’d been warned about how cold it would be up there, so Karin and I joked that we would just wear every piece of clothing we had. (We came pretty close.) My three pairs of socks and seven layers still didn’t keep out the freezing morning.

Once at the geyers, our local guide warned everyone to stay clear from the geyser named “The Killer”, which got its name after several people got too close and fell into the boiling water. (We steered clear.)

But we were tempted to jump into the hot springs with the loads of other tourists. It was such a relief from the cold, and it was funny watching everybody scramble for their clothes after getting out into the cold air. (It wasn’t funny when we had to do it.)

Wearing every layer of clothing possible at El Tatio geyers

9am back down the mountain

Llama crossing on the way back from the geyers

Vicuña sightings!

Stopped in this tiny town on the way back from the geyers.

Coca tea, the local remedy for altitude sickness.

Tomorrow I’m crossing the border into Tacna, Peru. Next up: Cusco and the Sacred Valley.

Lakes, theaters, and torta Alemana

I had to remind my self that I was actually in South America. For all I knew, I could have been near the Black Forest, the flag’s  black, red, and gold colors flying high against a backdrop of wooden, Alpine houses. Frutillar is one German-influenced town in Southern Chile. 

It’s mid-winter break, so most of us teachers have some time off to travel. Frutillar-bound we were. It’s only a 2 hour bus ride south of Valdivia, right on Lake Llanquihue. Everyone raves about this town with its lakeside theater, that attracts everything from ballet performances to jazz concerts. It’s definitely one of my favorite towns in Chile so far.

We could almost see the entire volcano! The most sun we’ve had all week.

TRIVIA TIME! How many Nestle logos can you find in the rest of my photos? Nescafe is omnipresent in Chile. Brian joked that he was almost expecting to see a Nestle mosiac floor when we walked into the theater. (Sadly, there wasn’t one.)

From the veranda.

Veranda ceiling. Amazing

Elise wanted to know where the best German cake in town was. So we went and asked the local municipality…

Asking city hall…

This is it! The best place for dessert in Frutillar, where the locals come and go.

Ridiculous cake creations in this place.

Nestle is the top

Just when this town couldn’t get any more cute, a rainbow appears…

The end.

“When you know the land, you know the country”

It’s not a winter weekend in Southern Chile without 3 things: lakes, active volcanos, and rain. 

The last few weekends I ventured into the Araucania and Los Lagos regions. Along with Los Rios, they make up Chile’s famous “Lakes District”, the gateway to Patagonia and one of Chile’s most beautiful areas.

This is a tribute to the beauty of Southern Chile. From Villarica street art to the rivers of Petrohue. It’s indescribable.

Valdivia

Petrohue. Take a 40 minute bus ride from the town of Puerto Varas and here you are!

Volcano Osorno at Petrohue. Standing here, you’re surrounded by roaring rapids and moving water. It’s powerful.

Villarica is known for its artisan markets.

Colorful wool and knit-wear is the signature of the south.

Sophie, Fred & Maribel. Our Villarica getaway.

Sophie, directing our 1-million point turn. One day, we decided to rent a car and drive to Parque Conguillio, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and one of Chile’s most famous national parks. However, the rain and snow was no match for our tiny car.

“It’s not always rainbows and butterflies…”

The alarm goes off at 6 am.

Hail is rattling the tin roof, and the Northern Patagonian winds are howling. Getting up is difficult, because I know I will be shivering in my classroom all day. I arrive to school and it’s still dark out.

There are mornings it’s so hard to gather energy to lead 12-year-olds at 8 am. There are the days you’re sick with some kind of stomach flu that came from who knows where. There are days your brain is literally numb from translating and trying to speak Spanish all day.

There are days your body is in so much need of sleep. Realizing your patience is tested every day. But then realizing you have so much more patience than you thought, and that humor dissolves anything. Realizing you don’t always have to smile. But then smiling anyway when your students say, “Hi meeees!” when entering your classroom.

Teaching abroad is an amazing experience.

With my I Medio class (freshmen)

Pucón: las mas grandes aventuras de mi vida

It’s been an intense weekend. On Saturday, we went white water rafting. My raft flipped in the middle of a rapid, which was easily the scariest experience of my life. Luckily, everyone made it out safely. Other than that, the weekend was smooth sailing.

Since it was Semana Santa, or Easter weekend, we all had Friday off, so me and the Los Rios and Araucanía region teachers headed to Chile’s outdoor adventure capital: Pucón. It’s a popular vacation town for Chileans and tourists, right on Lake Villarica, with the smoking Villarica volcano looming in the distance. It reminded me of Lake Tahoe: touristy and rustic. The entire town smelled like fresh air, woodburning stoves, and the mountains. I loved it.

Lake Villarica in Pucón

It was pouring rain when I arrived in Pucón, and I waited for the rest of the team to arrive: Fred, Andrea, Dominique, Ellie, James, Sophie and Gabriel.

The first night in, we headed to the town’s famous hot springs. The Los Rios region is known for them, and Pucón has dozens, heated by the volcano. We went to the Termas Los Pozones, which are open 24 hours, and a 40-minute bus ride from Pucón.

Termas Los Pozones!

They’re in this small canyon in the mountains, hidden away from the world. During the night, it started pouring rain, which was the most awesome feeling. Sitting in hot water and feeling cold rain on your face and shoulders.

Los Pozoles pools.

 

The team! Before the white water.

We went from one extreme to another. The next day was white water rafting. We had met some Belgians from our hostel who were staying with their Dutch friend, David, who works for one of the town’s white water rafting companies. We decided to give it a shot.

It was pouring rain when we woke up on Saturday, but we decided the show must go on. We piled into the van and drove 45 minutes out to the Trancura River.  Once at the shore, it was time for safety talk. We went over rowing, the different commands, and how to sit in the raft.

“Now, what happens if you fall out?” David asked us.

We all listened closely.

“Rellaaaaaax,” he smiles. “You’re in South America. Just relaaaax, ya know?”

We all just stared at him.

He finally tells us that the most important thing to do is immediately lie on your back, with your toes out of the water. You don’t want your feet to get wedged between rocks, which can be deadly if you end up trapped underwater.

Once out in the river, we practiced the commands. “Jump left/right” is what you do when you need to balance out the raft if one side is starting to tip. “Get down!” is what you do before going over a waterfall, basically kneeling inside the boat. It was finally time to go. We were about to go through class IV rapids. Before we reached the first one, David paddled by in his kayak, splashing us with his oar in order to get us ready for the cold waves ahead.

Our first manuever was a 9-foot waterfall, which was pretty exhilarating! Things were going great until our raft got to the first rapid. “Paddle right!” the guide shouted, and then, “Get down!” as we slammed into the white water. We were tossed around the waves, flying up into the air and slamming back down on the river. I suddenly realized how light our raft was with only four people.

All I remember next was the guide screaming, “Jump left!”, right before our boat flipped. The next thing I know I’m in the river, inhaling water as we were all pulled under. James ended up under the boat for a few seconds, but me and Sam were tossed away from it. My first thought was, “You’re wearing a life jacket, it will be fine.” I managed to get my head above the waves for a second, but the water was everywhere. I just inhaled more and started choking. Sam was suddenly next to me in the water, pulling me up by my life jacket and holding onto our overturned raft. He yelled for me to kick my feet up like you’re supposed to. I’m so glad he was there at that moment, because it snapped me out of the panic.

We rode out the rest of the rapid this way. I finally saw David’s bright yellow kayak next to us in the water, and we grabbed onto the rudder. We made it to calm water!

The other raft pulled up alongside us. We gave them the thumbs up, and I reluctantly got back in the boat.

We went over a few more waterfalls, and I began to feel a bit better when we made it through each time.

We finally pulled our boats over to the banks again. “See that,” David pointed out to a huge drop in the distance. “That’s a class 6 rapid. We’re going to skip this one.”

Class 6 is the highest ranking, basically considered unraftable. The plan now was to climb up the side of the mountain, and start again at the bottom of the river. . (The guides lowered the rafts over the little cliff with their ropes.)

Just when I started thinking the day couldn’t get any more crazy, David runs and jumps off a cliff into the water below.  “Your turn!” he yelled back up to us. This was where I drew the line. I’d already had my experience swimming today, so I took the safe route and climbed down the side of the mountain with Sophie and Gabriel.

Once back on the shore, I switched rafts. I wanted to be in a boat with more weight, and I immediately felt more comfortable. We went through one more massive rapid, and cheered the others on as they made it through.

After an hour of rafting, we made it back to shore. David’s friend was waiting for us with coffee and pisco sours on the banks of the river. Everyone from my capsized raft took a shot of pisco immediately. Much needed.

Ellie, Me, Fred and Sophie.

Team England

Walk to the Pozones hot springs.

Cazuela, a typical Chilean soup with rice, potatos, chicken, and squash.

Pucón!

Sunset outside the hostel.

Lake Villarica

Villarica Volcano. It’s smoking from the top!

During the night, we sang karaoke in every place we could find, and this song was everywhere. It’s the #1 song in Chile right now. The video is ridiculous. (South America’s Justin Beiber?)