chile

Day 6: Diamonds in the sky

Finally, the photos I’ve been ITCHING to share with you guys.

THIS is why local businessman and astronomer Esteban Zarate created Elqui Domos.

THIS is why astronomers all over the WORLD come to stargaze in the Elqui valley.

THIS is why WE ventured 300+ miles out of Santiago (in no easy fashion, mind you) to rest here for one night.

THIS is why we braved the chilling desert climate to capture a piece of it, to share with YOU.

THIS.

Words are insufficient. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Introducing:

Our galaxy.

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 “I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.”
― Og Mandino

“But if you’re not [religious], at least you can have the sense that there is a condition inside you which looks at the stars with amazement and awe.”
―Maya Angelou

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“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither”
― C. S. Lewis

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“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”
― Marcus AureliusMeditations

“Be glad of life because it gives you the chance to love, to work, to play, and to look up at the stars.”
―Henry Van Dyke

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“Looking up and out, how can we not respect this ever-vigilant cognizance that distinguishes us: the capability to envision, to dream, and to invent? the ability to ponder ourselves? and be aware of our existence on the outer arm of a spiral galaxy in an immeasurable ocean of stars? Cognizance is our crest.”
― Vanna Bonta

“If we discover a desire within us that nothing in this world can satisfy, also we should begin to wonder if perhaps we were created for another world.”
― C.S. Lewis

Yup. Wish you could be here ❤

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Day 5 in Chile: Elqui Domos!

Happy 2014! Our group started off the new year bright and early to catch a flight from Santiago to La Serena. We had originally considered renting a car to drive 9 hrs to our destination, because Elqui Domos, the hotel we were staying at, is literally and purposefully in the middle of nowhere (and no public transportation access whatsoever D:!). However, we came the conclusion that, due to the short nature of our trip, the not-too-terrible plane ticket costs ($180 RT/person), and the terrible fear that our lack of Spanish knowledge would doom us if we got lost, convenience was preferred. 

So why go to a place that is so remote, without an easy way to get there? Well, remote = very little light pollution, and apparently astronomers all over the world come to gaze at the super clear skies in the Elqui Valley. What drew us in specifically was the one-of-a-kind experience the Elqui Domos hotel offers. Elqui Domos is apparently one of only 7 astronomical hotels (meaning, hotels specifically geared towards stargazing) worldwide and the only one in the southern hemisphere, consisting of 7 hotel ‘rooms’ that are actually sepearate spherical tent-like domes with REMOVABLE ROOFs and 4 wooden houses with glass ceilings–all set up perfectly for stargazing. Think of it as glorified camping…haha. It was even featured in Unusual Hotels of the World! We couldn’t miss out on an opportunity to stay here one night while we were in South America. The price wasn’t bad either, split across 3 people!

Fortune would have it that our flight to La Serena was blissfully EMPTY on New Years Day. We later realized this was probably because we left so early, at a time when most people were just heading to bed after the New Years Eve celebrations. Come to think of it, when we had asked our concierge to book us a taxi to the airport that morning, he had actually joked that we were lucky they found someone, because most taxi drivers would normally be still recovering 😛 We had no complaints and took full advantage of the empty plane, each taking up a full row.

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the emptiest I’ve EVER seen on a plane

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a whole row all to myself 😉

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santiago airport, as we were taking off

While C and K tried to catnap, I took one look out the window and immediately got snap-happy with my camera. If you could see this view in person, you would too 🙂

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bye santiago!

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i got excited when i started seeing these mountains in the background…

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…but was in for SO much more…!

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as if out of a dream…

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aw

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the Elqui valley!

Needless to say, I was glued to the window. Before I knew it, we had arrived at La Serena and were amused to find out how tiny it was!  The airport has only two gates, and security doesn’t open until an hour before your flight due to the lack of people. I’m pretty sure one can only get to La Serena domestically, via Lan or Sky Airlines (we had opted for the latter). The airport’s size was in our favor, because we had no problem finding our taxi driver (arranged by the hotel).  He promptly picked us up, and literally whisked us to Elqui Domos. In a trip that would have taken about 3 hours if we went the speed limit, he got us there in 1.5 o_O! To his credit, our driver was extremely skilled, but was passing cars and barreling down mountain roads like it was his job (which, I guess it was). Still, that didn’t stop me from TRYING to get some pictures of the stunning scenery (note the blurriness of the road…hahaha)!

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i will never get tired of mountains

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we drove by tons of vineyards

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the elqui valley!

the elqui valley!

The downside of not having your own transportation at Elqui Domos is that once you get there, you are now stuck there. Also, because we arrived on New Years Day, which was an off day, the usual activities available around the hotel (poolside astronomy lessons, horseback rides, massages, etc) were all closed. Nevertheless, we didn’t complain, and used it as an excuse to finally RELAX. I used it as an excuse to explore the area and take photos 🙂 First of the hotel:

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rooms! true to the websites hahaha

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inside. note the removeable ceiling (!)

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top floor of the  main dome/reception area

top floor of the main dome/reception area

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Then went and took photos of the surrounding area (which was, as promised, pretty much nothing):

a bit further up the hill our hotel was on, there was an observatory!

an observatory up the hill!

view from the observatory-- the other lodging option at Elqui Domos

lone house on a hill...not sure what it was for

lone house on a hill…not sure what it was for
nearby was a desolate little neighborhood

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abandoned outpost

abandoned outpost

IMG_7693 IMG_7700 IMG_7706 IMG_7716We had to order dinner at the hotel because we were literally in the middle of nowhere, there were no nearby restaurants, and we didn’t have a car, but dinner turned out to be quite delicious! There was one chef who made the food and brought it out to us one by one–it felt very home-y and made for a wonderful meal experience 🙂

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first course: cream of pumpkin soup

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main: salmon and sauteed vegetables

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dessert: peach custard cobbler with vanilla ice cream P:

After dinner, it was time to wait for the sun to set…and the stars to come out. Let me just say…we found out why astronomers worldwide flock here. Because the photos of the sky at night in the Elqui Valley are beyond words, they deserve a post of its own 🙂 Stay posted!

Day 4: Feliz Ano Nuevo!

Today, we finally got to check out Mercado Central and La Vega, two large open markets in Chile. Listed by National Geographic as one of the world’s top ten food markets, Mercado Central is known for its huge variety for fresh seafood selection.  I think Frommer’s describes the environment of the market best:

“Lively and staffed by pushy fishmongers who quickly and nimbly gut and fillet while you watch, the market displays every kind of fish and shellfish available along the Chilean coast. Depending on your perspective, the barking fishmongers and waitresses who harangue you to choose their zucchini, their sea bass,their restaurant can be entertaining or somewhat annoying. Either way, don’t miss it, especially for the market’s lofty, steel structure that was prefabricated in England and assembled here in 1868.

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lots of people!

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They weren’t kidding about the pushiness of the wait staff at restaurants scatter throughout the market: the workers will literally ask you repeatedly to get food from their restaurant until you walk far enough away. Because Mercado Central is such a tourist location, the seafood IS expected to be pricey, but the quality is reported to be stellar. People on TripAdvisor had suggested that the restaurants on the outer edges were less expensive than the ones in the center, and some had suggested Tio Willy’s or Donde Agusto as good places to eat, but Tio Willy’s and Donde Agusto looked extremely touristy. Instead, we opted to try a small restaurant on the side called El Muelle 19. It was a tiny restaurant in the corner and definitely not as flashy as Tio Willy’s or Donde Agusto, but seemed to be pretty busy. We ordered ostiones a pil pil (scallops in a garlic butter sauce), machas a la parmesana (razor clams in a parmesan soup), and locos con mayonnaise (locos is abalone in spanish). To be honest (and I think it’s partially because our palates that are more used to Asian seasonings), though the fish was good, the way they prepared all our dishes was…very different…from typical food we eat at home. Especially the locos…the locos was cooked to be very firm and then topped with globs of mayonnaise on top! Much more mayonnaise than we knew to deal with haha. The ostiones and machas were good though–very tender, juicy and flavorful. C concluded Chilean food was not for her 😛

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donde agusto – it easily took up a fourth of the market!

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smaller side restaurants on the periphery of the market

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our dishes from el muelle 19 — from left and clockwise, locos con mayonaisse, machas a la parmesana and ostiones a pil pil

La Vega is also a huge market, known for it’s extremely fresh produce selection. The two markets are across the street from each other, so after we grabbed lunch at Mercado Central, we ventured over to explore La Vega and grab a freshly blended fruit smoothie (for only $2!!). I absolutely loved the ceiling at La Vega 🙂

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There was also some people selling merchandise in a small street between La Vega and Mercado Central. What struck me was that many merchants were working out of not stalls or floor displays, but shopping carts! I guess as long as it works 😛

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lady selling tons of different herbs

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more lucky yellow underwear!

After wandering around the streets for a bit longer, we took the day off and relaxed until it was nightime.  Apparently, in Santiago, there is a big display and fireworks launched from a tower around the middle of the Bernando O’Higgins avenue (think the equivalent of Time Square and the streets filling with people) to ring in the new year. Afterwards, people party and dance in the streets until 8am the next morning! J’s mom was super generous to invite us to her great aunt’s house to celebrate, which had an AWESOME view of Santiago’s New Year’s Eve fireworks.  Though the streets were definitely not as crowded as  Times Square on NYE, there was still a TON of people who came out to see the fireworks and dance afterwards! PS: I apologize for the quality of these next photos, but I didn’t bring my DSLR to NYE for safety reasons…so these will have to suffice 😛

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crazy hats 😛

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view of cerro santa lucia from J’s great aunt’s apartment

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so many people!!

Yay fireworks!

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K, C and I ❤

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some people setting off lanterns!

After ringing in the New Year, we were lame and went home to pack and sleep, because tomorrow morning we are flying to La Serena bright and early! 🙂 Happy new year!!

Day 3: More of Santiago

Needless to say, after the nearly 6hr hike yesterday, we slept pretty well last night. Today was another day of exploration in downtown Santiago: on the agenda = the Northern part of the city!

Our first stop was the district of Bellavista, known as the bohemian part of Santiago. Apparently, a lot of the city’s artists and intellectuals  live in this area, and the quarter is known for its vibrant nightlife. Pablo Neruda, one of Chile’s most famous poets, also built a house here. Though we didn’t go see his house (since we were going to visit his other house in Valparaiso), we saw plenty of other colorful buildings and quaint streets 🙂

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bellavista

bellavista

lots of cafes and outdoor patio dining

In the central part of Bellavista, there is an outdoor mall-like concentration of restaurants and artisan shops known as Patio Bellavista. There are a combination of unique and chains restaurants here (i.e., Starbucks), as well as higher end souvenir shops. Think better quality, but more expensive gift items, crafted from materials like lapis lazuli–a semi precious stone with only two major deposits in the world, one in Chile and the other in Afghanistan–or copper, two of Chile’s major exports.

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patio bellavista

outdoor dining

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patio bellavista

We had originally planning to grab lunch at a popular sandwich spot in Bellavista, Ciudad Vieja, before heading to Cerro San Cristobal (which is at the edge of the district), but because the restaurant was closed, we opted for food at Le Fournil instead (because its wifi :P) French food in South America! It was basically like “Le Pain Quotidien”–I also think Le Fournil has other locations throughout Chile. 

my lunch – salmon tartar and hearts of palm salad

our dishes

..and all our dishes, from top left and clockwise: grilled salmon with rice/bean mix (K), french onion soup (C), salmon tartar (mixed) and a chicken lemon salad with shrimp (C)

After lunch, we headed to our first attraction of the day: Cerro San Cristobal! Also another super popular tourist spot for views of the city, San Cristobal is much bigger than Santa Lucia and equipped with a funicular at its  Bellavista entrance, located at Pío Nono 450, Barrio Bellavista; Baquedano,  allowing people to easily get to the summit without much effort 😛 The funicular costs about $4 USD for a roundtrip ticket, which wasn’t bad at all. There is also a zoo midway up the hill you could stop at, but we opted to go straight up.

the entrance is a castle!

the entrance is a castle!

looking up

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up we go!

It wasn’t until we were riding up the funicular that I realized how much taller San Cristobal was compared to Santa Lucia! The funicular brings you to a nice plaza surrounded by trees where you can get this view:

hi santiago!

…and if one is up for it, you can also further climb up the hill via a set of steps to the left of the funicular leading to multiple memorials, sanctuaries for prayer (including a chapel), the real summit of the hill (with even more epic views) and the famous statue of the Virgin Mary (Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepción).

hi stairs to the summit

chapel, on the next level up

not quite sure what this was

the black rods can hold candles and the papers the walls are prayers

crucifixion memorial

Finally, when you reach the top, you will be greeted by this site:

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housed inside the virgin mary statue

apparently Pope John Paul II blessed the city from here in 1987

and these views 🙂

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NOTE: at the bottom is where Pope John Paul II said mass in 1987

One thing we noticed was that EVERY snack stand seemed to be advertising mote con huesillos, so C decided to be brave and get some to try. Turns out mote con huesillos is a very popular summertime Chilean drink, consisting of a sweet clear nectar like liquid made with dried peaches (huesillo) cooked in sugar, water and cinnamon, and then once cooled mixed with fresh cooked husked wheat (mote) (thanks Wikipedia!). Not the most intuitive combination of ingredients I would have thought of, but it was interestingly tasty!

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mote con huesillos, + C’s awesome nails 🙂

After Cerro San Cristobal, we explore Patio Bellavista a bit more for souvenirs and bought some gifts for back home. On the way out, we encountered another mini souvenir market outside. Tip: for those interested in cheap souvenirs, particularly lapis lazuli, the prices here are MUCH cheaper than the ones on the Patio.  To be fair, can’t say the quality is on the same par, but its nice to have options, isn’t it?

cheap souvenir market outside bellavista

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popular souvenirs seem to be woolen goods, lapis lazuil jewelery, copper, and leather goods

We then checked out Parque Forestal

parque forestal, basically santiago's central park equivalent

parque forestal, basically santiago’s central park equivalent

food cart selling empanada-like snacks!

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…passed by Chile’s building for tourism:IMG_7262

most beautiful tourism house ever

most beautiful tourism house ever

and found ourselves passing through the neighborhood of Lastarria, another artsy district of Santiago, where our dinner destination (as recommended by Pedro), was located.

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american plates??

a vendor selling…american state plates??

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beautiful church

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center of culture?

Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral

street art in lastarria!

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We finished off the day with dinner at Liguria, a fun, vibrantly decorated place recommended to us by Pedro and known for its decor and traditional Chilean menu!

outside

inside

so much art on the walls!

so much art on the walls!

more art

place settings

in the spirit of Chilean cuisine, we ordered three seafood dishes as recommended by Pedro

grilled tilapia with avocado rice

grilled hake (merluza) with avocado rice

ostiones a parmesana and congrio a pil pil

ostiones a parmesana (think parmesan broth) and congrio al ajillo (a garlic sauce)

and finished off with dessert

dessert!

dessert! tres leche layer cake and flan P:

And thus ends Santiago day 3! New Years Eve tomorrow!

For those who missed it:
Day 1: Santiago
Day 2: Hiking in the Andes

Day 2 in Chile: the Andes!

Today was the day I’ve been looking forward to all year: getting to hike into the Andes!! You cannot go to Chile (or South America for that matter) and NOT explore this amazing mountain range. Though Torres de Paine is the most popular tourist destination in Chile and originally on our itinerary, time and $ were too tight and we had to shave it off this trip. Still, Santiago is only 2 hours away from the part of the Andes that runs through Central Chile, so not all hope was lost! C and K aren’t big hikers, but they mercifully allowed me one day to plan where to hike (many thousand thanks for this <3). In case you don’t know me/didn’t get a chance to read my about page, I love hiking and mountains 🙂 So you can imagine my excitement for this day!

Around Santiago, there are multiple options to get back to nature, including vineyard tours and hiking ‘hills’ (which are the equivalent of mountains on the east coast, haha) on the outskirts of the city. When researching hikes, recommendations from 2backpackers.com and matador network to Aguas de San Ramón Park, and Santiago Tourist to the hills around Santiago were tempting prospects because of their proximity, but overshadowing all of them were the innumerable recommendations to check out the Maipo Valley/Canyon (Cajon de Maipo), particularly El Morado National Park and the San Francisco Glacier.

Since we didn’t know Spanish and are a group of Asian tourists (aka stick out. a LOT), we decided to play it safe and go with a guided tour for hiking. I found a company called Fueguinos online via TripAdvisor, and based off great reviews and a friendly email correspondence with Pedro (the main tour guide), felt comfortable choosing to book with him. For $120, we got Pedro as a guide, hotel pickup and transportation (plus photo stops along the way), tickets to the park, breakfast, a bag lunch with water, and empanadas/beer at the end of the day at San José de Maipo (a city right outside the mountains). Not a bad deal (other tours were going for $160-210, for the same service or less), and Pedro turned out to be an AWESOME, super friendly and super helpful guide!

PS: if you ever want to check out Cajon de Maipo by yourself, here are some resources I came across: Frommers and ilovechile.cl. From those sites, you could probably get on this same hike for much cheaper, but Spanish is probably necessary, and not getting lost is not guaranteed 😛 I have no regrets going with Pedro and would absolutely recommend him!

The day started with Pedro picking us up from our hotel right as promised, at 7am. Also in our group was a duo of backpackers from Belgium, who had also just arrived in Santiago. Through their conversation with Pedro, I was delighted to find out that Pedro also spoke French, along with English and Spanish (he lived in France for 10 years!). So I got a chance to practice some of my French during the course of the day! But I digress. It was through Pedro I found out the ‘mountains’ I saw on our first day into Chile were actually considered ‘hills’ by the Chileans–nothing compared to what we were in store later that day 😛

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…and we’re off!

On the way there, I might have been a bit too snap-happy with my camera…

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i thought these were the Andes. apparently, these are HILLS

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hills?!?

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<3!!

Pedro got a kick out of me going crazy over these ‘hills’. Do you blame me?!?? About an hour in, our first stop was in a tiny town (with a population of like, 10) at the start of the Andes. I think the town was called El Volcán? Named because it was within the shadow of the San Jose Volcano. We stretched out legs and had breakfast here, consisting of cheese sandwiches, coffee, tea and biscuits. P:

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the little (sleepy) town of El Volcan, completely quiet when we stopped by…

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more strays!

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when we came out, they immediated smelled food and sauntered over

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too friendly and cute to ignore

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and even they appreciated the beauty 🙂

After breakfast, we came across the towns namesake just down the road:

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san jose volcano in the distance–!!!

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and drove past some horses~

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more horses~ you can now tell we are in the andes because these mountains are a LOT taller

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+ another view. <3!

Not too long afterwards, we reached the entrance to the El Morado National Park.

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our destination in the distance!

To get to the start of the trail, we went over a river and through some…partial woods 😛

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those are sort of woods, right?

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…i got a little snap happy again

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over the river~!

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the entrance!

And thus ended the journey by car and commenced the 16km (approximated 9.5 mile) journey by foot. IMG_6816

According to Pedro, the first hour and a half of hiking was the hardest part, all uphill.

the valley behind us as we ascended

the valley behind us as we ascended

up up up

up up up

he wasn’t kidding about the uphill

the sign says ‘danger’ xD

Then, the next hour/hour and half-ish was a brief break, with hiking that was ‘flatter’:

el morado mountain in the distance

starting to see el morado in the distance!

mini waterfall!

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‘flatter’ is relative…heh

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cameo by pedro, our guide! also, apparently, those yellow things around him are all parasitic plants o_O

Part of the ‘flatter’ part of the trail was a small area called ‘Aguas Panimavidas’. This was a small wetland area with rich soil deposits, creating naturally iron-carbonated mineral water. The colors were stunning: a small pool of water all the way down from the glacier, and on a bed of soil rich in iron

enjoying the all natural mineral water! (we were too scared to try it this early on in our trip though ^_^’)

iron-rich soil

And then we continued on…

troopers

troopers!

getting closer!

…Until finally, after 3 hours, we reached a small lake/lagoon (formed by the glacier)! can you spot the people at the bottom??

obligatory contemplating nature pic 😛

We stopped here for lunch, which was still about 2 miles off from the actual glacier itself. We learned that El Morado Mountain is the summit in the middle, and on either side is the San Francisco glacier, which looks like mountain because of the snow covering it, but is actually, in true glacier form, a block of ice. If you zoom closely into the photo enough, you can see to the left of El Morado some grey spots of ice peaking out–thats the glacier! At this point, C & K were about done with hiking, so while the Belgians forged ahead, I stayed with C & K and used the time to relax. How can you NOT relax in a place like this? Pure bliss ❤

We rested for about an hour, then heading back to the entrance. Though it was the same route, the sun was no longer blinding the mountains in their own shadow, and to our delight, it turns out the mountains we had seen around the start of our journey were MULTICOLORED.

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check out the mountain on the left–!!!

We finished off the day by driving to San Jose Cajon de Maipo, another but more populous mountain town:

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and finished off the day with beer and empanadas P:

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this is a traditional chilean meat empanada–filled with ground beef, onions, olives and a sliced egg, and wrapped in a chewy baked dough. nommm

We got back to Santiago around 9pm, and needless to say, went straight to bed. An AWESOME Day 2 of Santiago complete, my inner nature lover completely satisfied for the rest of the year 🙂

For those who missed it:  Chile Day 1

Day 1 in Chile: Downtown Santiago

After 10+ hours in the air  (with a layover  in Lima), we finally got into Santiago at 6am! Our arrival was greeted by mountains…and the sun.

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I guess being welcomed by the sunrise sort of softened the blow of a 6am red-eye arrival…

We met up with C’s roomate J’s mom at the airport, who helped us get a taxi to our hotel/apartment (Infinity Suites by Ameristar in downtown Santiago).  We forgot that check-in is usually in the afternoon and were worried we would be stuck with our bags, but thankfully, Infinity Suites allowed us to check in on arrival. Hooray!

Infinite Suites offers apartments in a residential complex for travelers to stay in. For ~$60 USD/person/day we got a comfortable 2 bedroom, 3 bed apartment with a kitchen and living room (and wifi!)–not bad at all.  We proceeded to take pictures of our home for the next 3 days:

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…before making a unanimous decision to take a nap to recover from our flight. Since we arrived so early, and since it was also summer in Chile, suddenly daylight was 14hours again, giving us plenty of time to explore the city after a 3 hour nap :).

Our first stop was to exchange $$. Per recommendations by our hotel, there were a number of banks and money exchange counters available on Estado, between the  streets of  San Antonio and Bandera and perpendicular to Bernado O’Higgins (which is a major road in Santiago). We soon found out that Saturday = most banks close in the early afternoon (like the US!), but found two money counters with comparable rates. Since our Spanish still quite poor, we decided to exchange a small amount first to make sure we weren’t getting scammed.  We also decided to spend some right away at Sandwicheria Vivi (thank you Foursquare!), chosen because it was nearby, cheap, and advertised wifi, though we couldn’t get it to work on our cell phones :/ . Not Chilean food yet, but it satisfied our appetites (and confirmed our money was real! yay!).

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Estado, a pedestrian street between San Antonio and Bandera

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there were a TON of street vendors selling yellow undergarments! apparently, this is given to people for good luck in the new year

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first meal in Chile: simple chicken and salad with soup

After lunch, more wandering on Estado…

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some guy dancing with…a doll??

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i guess street performances in cities is pretty universal 🙂

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Which led straight to the first tourist spot on our list, Plaza de Armas

statue at a corner of the plaza

statue at a corner of the plaza

also universal? art being sold along the sides

also universal? art being sold along the sides

Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago (Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago)

Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago (Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago)

Edificio del Correo Central (Central Post Office Building)

Edificio del Correo Central (Central Post Office Building)

 

inside the plaza

inside the plaza

In the backgroun: Palacio de la Real Audiencia de Santiago (Royal Court Palace), formerly home of the royal courts of justice in the 1800s and now home of the  National History Museum of Chile

In the background: Palacio de la Real Audiencia de Santiago (Royal Court Palace), formerly home of the royal courts of justice in the 1800s and now home of the National History Museum of Chile

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Next stop, a hike up Cerro Santa Lucia. Apparently, Pedro de Valdivia founded the city of Santiago on February 12th, 1541 at the foot of this hill! Now, it is a popular tourist spot for panoramic view of the city. Admission is free, but everyone has to sign a guest registry when entering (I found this out after the fact, and was relieved we weren’t signing some random notebook :P). For future travelers, entrances are at Avenida Alameda and St. Lucía, or St. Lucía and Merced; alternatively, you could take the elevator to the top on St. Lucía Street at Agustinas.

walking up the steps--the hill looks deceivingly small

walking up the steps–the hill looks deceivingly small

a colorful lizard that crossed our path! too fast for my camera though! haha

a colorful lizard that crossed our path! too fast for my camera though! haha

one of many mini-plazas within the hill

one of many mini-plazas within the hill

fort #1, built originally to house cannons to defend the hill

fort #1, built originally to house cannons to defend the hill

 Pedro de Valdivia square, in the middle of the hill

Pedro de Valdivia square, in the middle of the hill

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beautiful STRAY dog! there were so many breed dogs just wandering around the hill

beautiful STRAY dog! there were so many breed dogs just wandering around the hill

Part of Fort Hidalgo (I think?), at the corner of Pedro de Valdivia square

view from Pedro de Valdivia square

view from Pedro de Valdivia square

pretty chapel near the top

pretty chapel near the top

garden dedicated to darwin

garden dedicated to darwin

View from Pedro de Valdivia square

another view from Pedro de Valdivia square

almost there!

almost there!

hello santiago! view 1 from the top of Fort/Castle Hidalgo

hello santiago! view 1 from the top of Fort/Castle Hidalgo

view 2 from the top of Fort/Castle Hidalgo

view 2 from the top of Fort/Castle Hidalgo

view 3 from the top of Fort/Castle Hidalgo

view 3 from the top of Fort/Castle Hidalgo

On the way down, we encountered another palatial structure– the fountain of Neptune. This was built by Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna in 1872 as part of his efforts to beautify the city

on the way day, we encountered another palacial structure-- the fountain of Neptune

This was built by Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna in 1872 as part of his efforts to beautify the city

mural at the bottom

mural at the bottom

Then, we took a quick metro ride to the Los Leones stop in the Providencia District of Santiago, where we planned to grab dinner. We were happy to find the subway system in Santiago very modern, quite convienient, and pretty much the same system as in New York or DC in the US. Each station can be found on the streets under huge signs with 3 diamonds, and colored according to whatever line you are traveling (aka, 3 red diamonds for the red line). There are different rates for off peak and on peak, and you buy a metrocard (‘called ‘Bip!’) that you can reload with $$ at machines within the station. A one way trip is about 600 chilean pesos, but varies depending on the time you are traveling. 

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metro platform

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subways in santiago are pretty much the same as in US cities…but with fewer seats, I guess to accommodate more people during rush hours?

We closed off the day with dinner at El Giratorio, a revolving restaurant on the top floor of a building in the more modernized part of Santiago. As reviews stated, the food was on the pricey side, but the views made it worth it 🙂 If you plan on checking this out, the best time is definitely around sunset, to catch both day and night views of the city!

view outside our windows

view outside our windows

C and K trying to decipher the menu (no english version :()

C and K trying to decipher the menu (no english version :()

hello santiago :)

hello santiago 🙂

shrimp and flounder ceviche appetizer

shrimp and flounder ceviche appetizer

view #2

view #2

my dish: a trout stuffed with veggies in a seafood sauce

my dish: a trout stuffed with veggies in a seafood sauce

night view 1!

night view 1~

night view 2!

night view 2

And that ends our first day in Santiago. Tomorrow (what I’ve been looking forward to all year): hiking in the Andes!!

Vayamos a Chile!

Hola mis amigos! I’m about to embark on a 9 day adventure with some of my best friends from high school to Chile. We’ve basically been planning this since the summer, and our proposed itinerary is as follows:

Dec 27th: Fly overnight to Chile

Dec 28-31: Explore Santiago

Jan 1-2: Fly to La Serena, then taxi to Pisco d’Elqui, staying one night in the unique Elqui Domos hotel (our treat). Fly back to Santiago on the 2nd.

Jan 3-5: Valparaiso and Vina del Mar

Jan 5: Fly back to the US

Everything should be pretty smooth sailing, except one tiny detail: none of us actually know how to speak Spanish. Besides the fact that we are all asian and will definitely stick out in South America, not being able to speak Spanish will be an adventure for sure 😛 We originally were a group of 4 (with one native Spanish speaker), but circumstances (aka a mean boss) resulted in our 4th having to drop out last minute. After the initial sadness for our friend and panic about being kidnapped/robbed/lost in Chile, my friends and I have decided to use this as motivation to force ourselves to learn Spanish on our own!

For those interested, I have been using two apps to teach myself Spanish: Duolingo and Memrise. Both have web-based AND mobile platforms and have been great so far in helping me with basic verb conjugations and vocab. I realized about 4 lessons in that I needed more travel-oriented vocab though, so I also downloaded Tourist Language Learn and Speak for Android and an offline Spanish English Dictionary. Per recommendations from my brother, the last app I downloaded to prepare for the trip was GPS Navigation & Maps +offline (aka Forevermap) by skobbler GmbH ($1.38 via the Google Play store and free on iTunes)– an app that allows you to purchase and download complete maps of countries or states for viewing OFFLINE. As I don’t plan on getting a data plan in Chile and have no idea what the availability of WiFi will be, anything offline will be gold.

I have decided to try posting most of my photos on this blog for this trip, contrary to mostly posting them onto facebook as I did before. This is because facebook 1. destroys photo quality and 2. doesn’t let you adequately tell a story with photos. So hopefully this goes well! Credit where credit is due, part of my inspiration for documenting this trip via the blog has been Calvin Sun, over at monsoondiaries.com. Calvin is an epic traveler, photographer and blogger and his travels have been adding IMMENSELY to my wanderlust. He not only has traveled to over 40 countries in the course of 3 years (while in med school…what?!) and keeps super helpful tips and iternaries on his blog, he  takes STUNNING photos–makes  me feel so inexperienced in comparison ;'( haha.  His website is DEFINITELY worth checking out. You can even join him on his upcoming trips! I also hope to one day travel with this guy 🙂

Anyways, enough advertising (all of it unsolicited btw)…time to pack for my first foray into South America!! Stay posted for photos from our trip!!