Leaving South America

A long overdue synopsis and photo journal of our final weeks in South America
With many drawn out goodbyes and some tearful hugs we made a healthy departure from Bariloche, and I left feeling that I had completed a chapter. My time there taught me so many things about myself and brought so many special people into my life. I am filled with nothing but gratitude and love for this small Patagonian town that I was lucky enough to call 'home'. 

old fishing neighborhoods, Puerto Montt, Chile
Michael and I packed up our little cabaña and loaded up the mochilas one last time for our last two weeks in South America. We crossed the Chilean border (after waiting for 5 hours to get our passports stamped because the Chilean state employees were on strike) and arrived to Puerto Montt late one afternoon. We were approached by a little old grandma at the bus station who asked us if we were looking for lodging. We couldn't turn down her tiny,wrinkled face so we accepted and followed her daughter back to their house, while she stayed on to solicit more tourists for her'hostel'.

We strolled through the old, dilapidated neighborhoods, harboring sailors and fishermen since the 1930's and following the railroad tracks down to the waterfront barrio of Angelmo, known for it's tiny stilted restaurants serving seafood fresh off the boat. This was my second visit and I suggested we order the classic Chilean dish, paila marina, basically a seafood stew with all sorts of ocean everything. Later that night the dinner selection would come back to haunt me (apparently everyone from Baltimore knows you should never order seafood stew)...  just as we were going to sleep and I was starting to really feel terrible, the  grandson knocked on our bedroom door to say that someone was there to see us. Slightly confused and nauseous I followed him downstairs as the old lady yelled out "I told them to go away, that you were sleeping, to come back tomorrow!"  Her grandson shouted back, "Tranquila, son amigos de ella!" I was hilariously surprised to see the infamous PABLOSHIT standing in the street with his buddy Eduardo. I laughed and went back upstairs to get Michael. An amusing introduction to say the least. ( If you don't remember this character from my post last January about my Colorado friends visit, please reference those stories for a glimpse into the personaje that is PabloShit. ) The next day our adventures with Pablo and Eduardo, the 'tour guide' commenced with a short bus ride to neighboring Puerto Varas, followed by Pisco Sours at an old house turned trendy bar, a late night grocery shopping trip, and a midnight drive to the country house where Pablo and the gang put on their best show of a Chilean asado...Pork, sausages and potatoes on the grill at 3am. The next morning we awoke to a garden exploding with flowers and a sun filled mate session with the one and only before heading back to Puerto Montt to board a ferry to the island of Chiloe...

Puerto Varas, Volcan Osorno

Buen dia en el campo! con el pequeño aracauria

Pablo's mom planted everything in this garden when they bought the property 15 years ago! 

the mighty nalca
eating the nalca with Pablo
la casita :)
Ferry to Chiloe
There was much discussion of what we should do in Chile for our last couple weeks and we were overwhelmed with options. There is sooooooo much to see just within the tiny pockets surrounding Puerto Montt. With limited time we were forced to pick only one more place to visit. The recommendations were unanimous; Go to Chiloe. And it was spot on. We ended up spending a full week on this magical little barrier island. By bus and ferry we arrived to the port of Ancud, then hopped another bus south to the capital city of Castro with is stilted harbor houses and florescent colored tin churches. We then went west to Cucao where we splurged on an upscale 'hostel' that was more luxurious than any hotel I've stayed in. The west coast of the island is home to a national park and is a green paradise filled with rolling hills that drop into the Pacific Ocean and as the rain cleared we spent the day walking through fields and beaches. That night we snuggled up as a fire burned in the wood stove and the full moon reflected in the glassy lagoon. The next afternoon we bused north to the Islas de Puñihuil where Pablo's good friend Jose, the forest ranger awaited us with his penguins. We spent two days with the rangers on the beach, penguin hunting and hiking the hills in search of gigantic Pacific waves.

iglesia de Castro, capital of Chiloe

our deck at the luxe Hostel Palafito, 2 hours from Castro in Cucao

a man and his coffee

my kind of hot tub! just add fuego

misty Pacific cliffs, Cucoa

Pacific windsssss

hunkered down in the dunes with my love
waterfront homes

our hosts and cozy accommodations at the forest ranger station: Penguinera, Puñihuil
view from the Forest Ranger's front yard

i spy...


school trip to learn about penguins. we made fast friends who shared their cookies with us and told us how much they loved our hair 
with Jose eating Curanto, a traditional dish of the island; shellfish, meat, potatoes and milcao (potato dumpling) cooked underground in a hole lined with hot stones.

the waves were HUGE. ill-timed photos couldn't capture their enormity

leaving the Rangers

The hospitality with these fellows could not have been finer and one of the rangers even gave us a lift to our next and last destination on the island. Up and over the hills to nearby Chepu, where we stayed at an eco-lodge run by a couple who abandoned their busy life in Santiago, Chile to run a sustainable adventure lodge in this river side paradise; Chepu Adventures. The entire grounds are run on solar and water energy, and Fernando, a former engineer has invented a very detailed and complicated system that monitors and regulates all the energy use on the property. This man is a encyclopedia on renewable and sustainable energy sources and speaks from experience on what it takes to really live {off the grid}. Fernando and his wife, Amory offer a self-guided sunrise kayak tour through driftwood forests, created by the 1960 earthquake and the following tsunami which drowned the area with salt water, killing the trees that once formed a forest in the Chepu River Valley. The trip was recommended to me by two friends from Bariloche who produced a beautiful video of their experience for the Chile Ministry of Tourism (find it at; www.descubrefilms.com, under ´Chepu Adventures´). The images are haunting and absolutely captivating. It was one of my favorite moments of the entire trip. And I saw a river otter! No need for more words, the photos speak for themselves...

Because Chepu is so remote, there is no regular public transportation and certainly no chance of catching a taxi. So after breakfast, we set out on foot back towards the main road leading to Ancud. We walked several hours with the sun high overhead, passing only cows and lazy dogs. We were left in the dust by the two cars that passed us, ignoring our hitchhiking thumbs and sweaty pleas for a ride. Close to desperation, we finally got picked up by a giant milk truck. The man told us that he was going back to Puerto Montt and would be happy to take us if we didn't mind tagging along while he made his last pick up at a near-by dairy farm. So off we went with the milkman on a four hour drive through the island, on the ferry and back to the mainland where we went directly to the bus terminal to take an overnight bus to Santiago. We only had a couple hours in Santiago, just enough time for coffee and a stroll through the main plaza before catching another bus to Mendoza.

Plaza de Armas, Santiago de Chile
sculpture honoring the indigenous Mapuche people

The journey through the mountain pass crossing the Andes from Santiago to Mendoza is one of the most spectacular drives I've ever experienced. The peaks in this region are some of the tallest in the Andes range and caps off with an insane glimpse of Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside of Asia at  6,962m (22,837ft). The switchbacks zigzagging up the pass are nauseatingly beautiful. The mountains are streaked in every hue of green, blue, ocre, violet, brown and grey painting perfect textured lines and geometric angels across the towering rocks. Unfortunately, I was too busy with my head stuck to the window to take any photos, but they wouldn't have done the scenery justice anyway... it is something that must be seen with your own eyes.

We arrived to Mendoza just before 10pm, absolutely exhausted, having woken up before sunrise, kayaked, hiked, 'slept' on a bus for 15 hours with a four hour city break then another 6 hour bus ride. Unknowingly we arrived in Mendoza on a holiday and virtually every hotel was booked, so after a very frustrating search we settled on a private room in a typical hostel, which we both agreed would be our LAST HOSTEL EVER.

This being my second visit to Mendoza, I was so excited to repeat all the delicious things that Janelle, Selcuk and I had discovered last May. There was a huge international food festival going on in the main plaza, with twenty countries offering up their best local cuisine. The choices were overwhelming so we decided to have a little taste from as many places as possible; Spain, Italy, Mexico, Argentina, and Turkey. After satiating our eclectic palates we were strolling past the lines of tables filled with animated eaters when we were stopped short by two little girls who stood directly in front of us and said, "HELLO!" They introduced themselves as Brunella (best name ever) and Victoria. They knew we were not locals and when we told them we were from the States, the floodgate opened. "I looooove Disney! Do you know Miami beach?! Ay quiero ir a Miami Beeeeaaaach!" Shortly after, they were joined by their two older sisters, Agus and Cati and later by their brother and his friends. Soon we were standing in the middle of the plaza, surrounded by little kids firing off an endless arsenal of questions. Passerby's watched and laughed at the scene we were causing. One full on dance recital by Brunella (she had had a performance the night before and wanted to show us her routine), much theatrics and a thousand questions later, their moms finally came over to relieve us. It was well past midnight and these kids showed no signs of slowing down. We, however, were full and sleepy so we said goodbye to our amiguitas, and I practically had to peel the little girls off of Michael. We walked away with the biggest smiles on our faces. Definitely the highlight of our stay in Mendoza, and such a perfect representation of curious youth.

nuestros amiguitos Mendocinos

Brunella y Victoria
We also met up with the ever gracious, Alejandro who invited us to another olive oil tasting and Federico's family asado feast that lasted til 4am. Michael said he felt like he was in Italy, everyone yelling around the table, forks and knives flailing animatedly through the air, narrating stories and stabbing for meat. Wine flowed like olive oil, Fernet was ever present, followed by whiskey and cigars and a little bit of cumbia. Alejandro nailed it on the head when he said, "the four smells of Mendoza; gas, shit, asado and jasmine." As we ate, an epic amount of rain fell and by the time we finally left we were driving through flooded streets wondering if the weighted down taxi (weighted mostly by our hefty driver/dining companion) was going to make it. The sun was almost coming up by the time we went to bed and the next day Michael was in a bad, bad way.

street art, back ally, Mendoza

The plans we had made to visit the vineyards were cancelled as our very sick boy suffered through the smells of the communal kitchen wafting through the hostel room windows. Fever, cold sweats and belly aches would characterize our last days in Argentina. No South American trip is complete without a good dose of Giardia! I did get out to do some street strolling while Michael was asleep, and enjoyed my last Mendocino olives and ice cream alone. 

We still had one more 15 hour bus ride ahead of us, and that's no fun with a giardia belly so we waited until the night before our flight home to leave for Buenos Aires. Poor Michael was a real trooper and survived the interminable bus ride, in one of the most uncomfortable, disgusting buses I have been on since Peru (you would think that after so much time down here I would have known not to take the cheapest and last bus on the schedule! ah, the endless lessons!) 

We arrived in B.A. on a hot November afternoon and spent our 'layover' lounging in the shade of the giant araucaria trees in beautiful Plaza San Martin. We had planned on spending a couple days in the capital city before leaving but due to unforeseen circumstances, we had only a few hours to say farewell to the place where this whole journey started. But if there is only one place to see while you in Buenos Aires, it should be Plaza San Martin. When I first arrived, this was the only place in the whole city that made me feel at ease and I was happy to show it to Michael and to keep it as my final impression of South America. I made a few last minute souvenir alfajor purchases and stocked up on some yerba mate before catching a rush hour taxi to the airport for our final 17 hour trip. Home never sounded so good! 

I am so incredibly grateful to have spent the last four months of my trip with one of my best friends and the love of my life. No amount of beautifully crafted words, no colorful photos, no stories can capture the true essence of what it means to be in these places; to hear the unparalleled banter of the argentinos, to feel the force of the Patagonian winds against your face; to taste the juicy perfection of a glass of Malbec in the very orchards that produced the grapes; to see the reflection of the snow-capped Andes in a lake so impossibly turquoise... To share this with him was the most rewarding part of my entire journey. After eighteen months away from home, I had finally come full circle. This time I return with a sure heart, full of beauty and wisdom that can only be learned when caution is thrown to the wind and you open yourself to the whatever the world blows your way. 

This place is forever a part of my life. I will be back......