Friday, October 1, 2010

Chile Sept 2010

This year brought upon a very special opportunity for me. A few years ago I worked at Timberline lodge on Mt Hood. During the winter, Timberline had a few Chileans working through an exchange program. Through the years, I have stayed in touch with a few of them and the opportunity to go visit couldn't be passed. I bought my plane ticket with no hotel reservations, no car reservations, and no plans. All I knew was that a friend was going to pick me up from the airport and what the rest of the trip brought...I wasn't sure.

I left Portland, Oregon on the morning of Monday the 20th. My flight went from San Francisco to Miami to a final destination at Santiago International Airport on the morning of Tuesday the 22nd. Customs was a pain and I quickly found out my bag with all of my cloths was lost. However, my snowboard bag made it with all my gear....the important stuff. Thankfully the airport delivered my lost bag the next day.

The trip started with an interesting drive around Santiago. Tomas, my friend that picked me up from the airport is a native to Chile but he lives in a costal town called Vina del Mar so he didn't really know his way around Santiago. He didn't come with a map either. Our mission was to find the hotel that my friend Angeli was staying at. Angeli is a pro skier and she had already been in South America doing some filming and we had the opportunity to link up. Thankfully after a bit of searching we found Angeli. Although, I appreciated the drive so that I could see the different neighborhoods of santiago.

Once we found Angeli we went to dinner and had some empanadas. It reminded me a lot of a calzone with meat and onions. It was really delicious and a traditional food for Chile. After dinner we ventured to another part of the city to link up with another friend I worked with at Timberline named Jose. He owns his own pet store, where I grabbed my new puppy, Lola, a sweater. All four of us went to the very center of Santiago where there is a castle that was a part of the Spanish history of the city. The castle was really beautiful and the view of the city from the top was awesome with the sun setting behind it. Afterwards we went to another restaurant and had another traditional dish called chiorme. It was basically french fries with onions and meat piled on top. Similar to chili cheese fries, but with a Chilean twist. Since Angeli's hotel was located in a hip part of town it was convenient to just go down stairs and grab a few drinks. We ended up chatting it up with some scientists that are doing research in the Patagonia. Two were from England and one was from America. Our conversations carried late into the night.

The next day Angeli and I went shopping and strolled around town. We picked up a few authentic souvenirs and found a skate park along the way. We hung out until Angeli had to leave to return home, then I moved forward to continue the trip alone. After she left Tomas came back to grab me and we ended up checking out this park near the hotel that had a zoo and a tram that took you to the top of the hill where the most amazing view of Santiago were. I had no idea the city was so large until I got to the top. It was really important that we got out of the park before dark so we quickly made our way down the mountain and headed to a friend of Tomas's. To the north of where we where was the nicer residential areas of Santiago. It was there that Charme had a house and was kind enough to host Tomas and I for the evening. Charme is a snowboarder and lives with other people that are involved in skateboarding and surfing. It was really awesome to get to hang out with people that I would normally hang out with if I lived in the U.S. We all have the same appreciations and common interests.

Thursday morning Cherme, Tomas, and I headed up to the mountains. The Andes mountains are breath taking. I only regret that there wasn't more snow, but this has been a bad season for this part of Chile and it is also the beginning of Spring for them. In this part of the Andes there are three resorts, Valle Nevado, El Colorado, and La Parva. Valle Nevado is the most popular and occupied primarily by tourists. Instead, we went to El Colorado because Cherme worked there and already had a pass. They also have the better park at the moment. Once we got there I talked to the marketing manager and she was nice enough to give me a ticket for the day. Wahoo, free ticket was a huge bonus. The conditions weren't epic by any means but I still had a blast and couldn't contain my excitement that I was snowboarding in Chile. After snowboarding we made our way to a hostel called Avalanche Hostel. The owner of the hostel was a friend of Charme's and gave us a discount.

Friday, we went to a resort called La Parva. The resort didn't have a park because the season was so bad, but we decided to go up anyway because we had the ability to get media passes. I'm really glad they hooked up the tickets because the conditions were so socked in that you could barely see more than 3-4 feet in front of you. We took two runs to just check out what I could, but that wasn't much since the visibility was so bad. Although,the day before I did get to see the terrain that La Parva has to offer and it is amazing. Huge cliffs, lots of contour, and plenty of steeps. On a good day, this resort is definitely a must go to destination!!! After shredding we made our way back to the hostel where we were merry and played Texas Hold'em most of the night.

There is another ski town in Chile that is about a 6 hour drive south of Santiago called Pucon. They have had a much better season this year and everyone keeps telling me that I have to go. Since my Spanish is so bad I fear traveling alone, but my new friend Jorge is going to come with me. Jorge is a Spaniard that worked on the park at La Parva this season. He also has not been to Pucon so he is willing to travel with me to have the experience and have a traveling buddy. I'm stoked to travel with someone who speaks good English and is native to the Spanish language. We researched the bus fares and decided to travel next week.

Saturday was a slow day, but I ended up running into Chantelle Heroux a pro skier friend from the United States. The irony of running into her in such a far far place just shows how small the world can be. In the afternoon Tomas and I started to make our way to his hometown called Vina del Mar, meaning vineyards of the sea. We arrived at night so I didn't really get to see too much. There as a little empanada place that Tomas took us to since we were starving. We had one baked and one fried and it was amazingly delicious and super cheap. Since Tomas is heading back to Australia soon, he had a lot of catching up to do with friends. Saturday was a late night for us. We went to a bar-b-que at one of his friend's house who was also leaving soon to go study in Barcelona, Spain. I was super tired and wasn't sure if I'd be able to last. I asked Tomas to drop me back off at his parents house before he went to the next place that night, but a few Pisco Colas later I was ready to keep going. Pisco is a type of alcohol that is made from white grapes. Pisco is distilled differently than wine so it is not the same, but it tastes great. I prefer Pisco Sour (with sweet and sour mix, usually made from fresh limes) rather than Piscola (with Coka-cola), since that stuff is harsh for your body. After the bar-b-que we went to a place called Exotica. It is normally a night club, but since it is the off-season in this beach town the place was super slow and closed for a private birthday party. However, this was also the place where Tomas was meeting up with friends. One person who really stood out to me that evening was a girl named Conna. She was a good friend of Tomas and she spoke really good English since she had lived in Australia and New Zealand. Soon she will be working in Canada. I am grateful for her company because it ended up being a late night and we had many good conversations. Tomas's parents have a really nice house with a view of the sea and they were nice enough to give me the guest bedroom. I was stoked to be able to sleep somewhere warm and comfortable. The hostel in the mountains was freezing to the point where I was sleeping in my jacket and could see my breath. This was a nice change.

Sunday was my first full day at the coast. The day started with a visit to Valpraiso, a town next to Vina that was just a bit older. It was amazing though. There are tons of houses on the hills that are all different colors with tons of awesome graffiti and amazing views of the sea. This town definitely had a particular charm to it. Many hills compose the town with elevators that take people down and up the hills. For lunch we grabbed some food at a small resturaunt where Tomas's friends Manuel and Paula joined us. Manuel is a successful business owner. He is a distributor and imports fruits from around the world. I am grateful for his company because he treated us to something I could have never imagined. He invited us to go to a spa that he is familiar with. This spa was very unique to any spa I have ever been to. There are individual rooms with hot tubs that can be filled with mineral water and windows that open to a view of the sea. The water is hot spring water that carries the minerals and salts of the sea so when soaking it is a detox, helps with arthritic pains, and other bodily beneficial effects.

The timing was amazing though because the sun was just setting when I got to sit in this amazing tub and stare out the window. I almost cried because I thought to myself, "how lucky am I right now." After the hot tub session we all went upstairs for some healthy snacks. Hot green tea, a bowl of fruit, and freshly cut aloe awaited us. Freshly cut aloe was a new experience for me. We ate the aloe because it is supposed to help with your digestive system and we rubbed some on our skin. You have to eat it whole though, chewing is not pleasant. Afterwards Manuel treated us to the most memorable dinner. Since Vina is on the sea obviously sea food is plentiful and good. The restaurant we went to was amazing. We had a sea food casserole, Matchas which is a pink clam that was in a parmesan cream sauce and was "orgasmic" as Manuel described it, and we had Loco which was also my first time trying but delicious. The evening was amazing and I am so grateful to Manuel for making it possible.

Monday was my last day in Vina before I left for Pucon. I hit up the markets a bit to buy some souvenirs and we got to spend a while on the beach just enjoying the views, smells, and sounds of the waves. The water is a pretty shade of blue and the waves were nice barrels where the sea lions and the surfers were getting their fill of fun. Before I knew it the day was over and I had to catch an overnight bus to Pucon. It left Vina at 8 pm and was due to arrive in Pucon at 8 am. The bus was large with two stories and I paid the extra money to be on the bottom floor where there were seats that laid back to be full beds. I figured the extra ten bucks was worth a good night rest since I had a full day of snowboarding the next day.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to ride the next day. The bus pulled in a little late and most of the shuttle busses to the mountain had already left for the day. I didn't mind though since the weather was rainy. I figured the visibility on the mountain wasn't so great. Jorge came with me on this trip so we left the bus station with our equipment and started walking to our hostel. We stayed at a hostel called "The Tree House Hostel." Our beds cost us 8,000 pesos a night which is about $16 U.S. dollars. Two things kicked ass about this hotel. First, the tree house, obviously. It has a really great view of the volcano and the surrounding area. Second, the wood stove in the common area. It was very efficient and probably was the warmest it had been in a while. The room that our beds were in was attached to the common area. No heat in the rooms forced us to keep the door to our room open so we could let the heat in from the wood stove, but completely worth the good warm nights rest.

The next day Jorge wanted to save money by hitch hiking. It probably wasn't the best idea, but it was worth the experience. After walking about 20 min to the bottom of the road that leads to the ski resort, we ended up running into a bunch of people that were already trying to hitch hike also. Two hours later, no one was getting picked up. Every car that drove by was full of people. My frustration was quickly growing to the point where I was willing to pay for a ride. Eventually a taxi came by and we flagged it down to see how much it would cost to take us to the resort. The driver said he would take us for 12,000 pesos. We grabbed two other people who were waiting for a while and headed up to the resort at 3,000 pesos each. Once we got there I wanted to talk to the marketing office about a pass, but there was no marketing office. The base lodge facilities are so outdated that they didn't even have any kind of dinning area or manageable facilities for people. We went to the ticket counter and the women there said the marketing office was back in the town of Pucon. She called the area manager that told us we had to talk to the marketing office because the pass situation was out of his hand. The lady at the ticket counter called the marketing office, but I guess no one works there until noon? Anyway we stood in front of the ticket booth for about an hour before we got a hold of anyone. Once we did get a hold of someone in the marketing office, they said I needed to e-mail them about passes. I was already there though and didn't understand why I couldn't talk to someone so I decided to head down the mountain back to the town of Pucon to talk to someone in person. Jorge and I hitched a ride back into town to the Casino where the office was. There was a guard at the front door that wouldn't let us pass to go to the marketing office. Again we stood there for about a half hour while the guard made some calls to get a hold of someone in the office. The head person from the marketing office, Claoudia, said she was in a meeting and to come back later. That is exactly what we did, we came back later. Again we stood and waited at the door while the guard made some calls. Eventually one lady came down from the office just to tell us we had to go to the Grand Hotel to talk to Claudia there. Great, what a circle we are being sent on. So we walked to the Grand Hotel and talked to one of the men at the door there. He told us to wait. Waiting was the theme of the day. He came back down just to tell us that Claudia decided not provide us with passes. I was so frustrated. I wasted my whole day getting the total run around from these people. I also don't understand why Whistler and all the other ski resorts in Chile could provide me with a media pass and Pucon couldn't? I mean Whistler is one of the largest ski resorts in the world and they were more accommodating then this little tiny whole in the wall resort that could probably use some good publicity, but obviously not.

The next day was beautiful. Jorge and I took the shuttle this time to make sure we could get to the resort at a reasonable time. It is spring in Chile right now and non-peak prices should have been in effect, but they weren't. The resort was charging full prices in anticipation of the independence day holiday that hadn't started yet. Also, they only had two of their 7 or 8 chairs running so that made for a totally boring day considering the resort is super flat where the chairs were running. We took the same run about 8 times and I didn't want to do it again. I was upset that I paid for such a lame day on the mountain. I do not recommend Pucon ski resort but I do recommend going to the town of Pucon for everything else that is offered in the area. There are many hot springs, rafting, national forests with amazing hiking and views to see, and much much more.

That night I hopped the bus for an overnight travel back to Vina for the bicentennial holiday. Chile spends three days celebrating their independence day and this one was extra special since it was the 200th birthday of Chile. When I got to Vina, Tomas picked me up from the bus station and told me we were going to go to another beach town called Argorrobo. My friend Patty was going to be there for the holiday. Patty, was another Chilean that I had worked with at Timberline and she also lived in Santiago. Therefore, the plan was to get me to Argorrobo so I could go back to Santiago with Patty since my flight to the States was leaving on Monday after the holiday. Tomas's friend Rudolfo was nice enough to take us to Argorrobo and we stayed with their friend, Philipe, aka "Gargola," or gargoyle in English. Philipe's family has this large house that is subdivided into separate apartments where each aunt and uncle and grandparents had their own apartment. Their family was very welcoming and the accommodations were very comfortable. We got to Argorrobo just in time for the bar-b-que. After eating and drinking Piscola, we went to what is called the Ramada. There are Ramada's everywhere and they are basically these temporary huts that are put up with wood and leaf roofs where everyone dances and is merry. What I didn't realize was how hard the Chileans can party. I had to be mindful of my alcohol consumption considering I am in a foreign country and it could be dangerous for me to loose my consciousness. When the sun was starting to rise was when the Ramada closes and it was at that point we made our way back to the house for some sleep.

At about noon we went to the beach to sleep some more until about 5 pm and then we went back to the house to do it all over again. Bar-b-que all night then go to the Ramada until the sun comes up. Like I said, Chileans party hard.

Sunday Tomas and Rudolfo headed back to Vina and I stayed to figure out how I was going to get to Santiago the next day to catch my flight. Patty's father had a heart attack and she had to rush to Santiago so my plan to leave with her didn't work out. Philipe was nice enough to offer to take me to Santiago the next day since he lived there and it all worked out in the long run. Sunday was a bit more mellow. We went to the beach to catch a siesta, "nap," and then afterwards we went another cliffside beach to fly some kites. Flying kites is popular in Chile this time of year because the wind is very consistent. Another bar-b-que followed, but not the Ramada, thankfully. I was very tired. We ended up staying at the house and playing a game that was dice involved, however it is way to complicated to try to explain. I think we went to bed around 1am, and then there was an earthquake around 2am. I am a heavy sleeper so I slept through the quake.

Unfortunately, my trip was coming to an end. I had to make my way back to the airport to catch my plane back to the United States, but I was looking forward to going home as well. The trip has been an amazing experience, mostly in part to my friends that made sure I had the true Chilean experience from the food to the culture.