CIEE, the program I’m studying abroad with, organizes several trips for us throughout the semester. Our first one was to Rabuco, a small farming town about an hour out of the city. A lot of people skipped this trip because they thought it would be really lame, but I ended up being really glad I went. We learned how to make sopaipillas, delicious chilean pancake-like things but you make them for dinner and on rainy days. Then we took a tour of a paltaand lemon factory (palta means avocado in Spanish) and it was SO interesting! Chile produces avocados all year long, but when winter starts (around April, when we were there) their lemon crops stop making fruit, and they have to import lemons from California (which is funny to me since in OUR winter, the lemons we get all come from Chile). Here are a few cool pictures I snapped:
Above: They made us wear these jackets in the avocado factory, don’t I look pretttttty?
My first trip out of Chile was to Mendoza, Argentina in April. Some girls in my program asked me if I wanted to go on a Wednesday and we got on a bus the very next day. It was a 12 hour trip but we slept, mostly. Ten of us went, all from different study abroad programs. It was so last minute that we didn’t book a hostel ahead of time or plan anything; we just packed our bags and left. Honestly, travel should always be so easy.
Of course, getting there at 5am did complicate things a bit. Luckily, hostels are such a big business here in suramerica that hostel owners are almost always walking around the bus station looking for some guests. We ended up staying at a place that was in a really good location downtown but, well, let’s just say it was definitely not five star.
Above: A picture of our very sketchy hostel; I only wish I could show you the bathroom, the sink was literally sideways on the wall & there was a huge hole in the floor in front of the toilet!
Below: Those are my friends Jackie and Jessica in that picture, they’re the best.
Mendoza was so much fun! The city is really beautiful, it was big but the way it’s laid out made it seem like a really small, quaint town. The first day we walked around and got caught in the rain, so we had to dive into a little restaurant to dry off and we sad and drank a beer until the weather cleared up. On the second day, we went out to the Andes and rappelled off the side of a mountain, ziplined over a river, and rode horses through the mountains. It was seriously the most awesome experience I could have hoped for. No one could believe I rappelled off a mountain! I’m normally very averse to physical exertion (and, okay, a little afraid of heights).
The view of the Andes from the bus! Can you believe they are this amazing from the interstate? Just imagine them up close.
Above: Me ziplining!
Above: Me and the horse I rode; his name was Misery. The guy who owned the horses & I laughed about it because the horse & I were both in misery going so slow (I ride horses and prefer to go fast, you see, but no one else we were with knew how to ride).
On the last day in Mendoza, we were super exhausted, but we forced ourselves out of bed and went to the Mendoza Zoo, which is actually famous in South America for being one of the biggest and best in the world. I’ll save you the trouble of looking through all my pictures of animals, but I made special friends with this one monkey so I can’t resist showing you that one. They sold “monkey food” at the park, and most people gave it away to the monkeys right next to the food stand, but we saved ours for the very end and gave it to the lonely monkeys. Jessica also ate a few pieces of the monkey food (it was really just pita chips but we still teased her about it).
The next week, we had another CIEE trip to Pucon, a town in Southern Chile. Everyone told me “Oh, it’s so beautiful there!” and I guess it was, but actually it looked a lot like Kentucky so I wasn’t as impressed as the kids from Colorado and California were. Still, we had a good time. The first day, we got to meet and hang out with some of the Mapuche people, which is the biggest group of indigenous people to Chile, who were here even before the Incas and long before the Spanish arrived. They taught us how to cook some old Mapuche recipes and showed us around a bee farm where they harvested honey. The next day we went on a tour of all of the waterfalls in the area (SO many) and then we went swimming in las termas, the thermal springs that are warmed up by the magma under the ground from the volcano nearby. The last day we could choose our activity; at this point I was running low on money because of some problems I’d been having with my bank, so I went horseback riding again because it was the cheapest. Some people went rafting or climbed the volcano, which sounded cool too but also potentially too much work for my floja (Chilean slang for lazy) self.
Above: a bunch of the girls from CIEE in front of one of the waterfalls.
Below: about a third of the entire CIEE group swimming in thetermas.
I went a while without traveling after that, mainly because of school (midterms, ugh) and money. A few weeks ago we had another CIEE day trip to Santiago, the capitol of Chile. Everyone in CIEE has to take one class directly through CIEE, and each class did a different activity. We all went to see Pablo Neruda’s house first, and then we split up. My class, “History, Film, and Literature of Valparaiso” went to go visit a local artist who makes reliefs on pieces of wood and then uses them for print-making. His art was so freaking cool, and afterwards they taught us how to make our own!
Above: Some cool graffiti outside of Pablo’s place, and one of my favorite pictures ever.
Above: Us making the art, you had to use the screwdriver-looking-thing to scrape your picture into the wood.
The next trip we went on was to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I had heard this city was dirty and the people were rude, but that was not the case. I loved it the minute we stepped off the ferry. Ferry, you ask? Yes. You see, there’s a fee for US citizens to fly into a lot of South American countries, and in Argentina it’s about $150. So instead of paying this, we flew to Montevideo, Uruguay and then took a ferry into Buenos Aires. It saved us money but actually I wouldn’t recommend it because we were traveling for over twelve hours and by the end we all hated each other.
Still, the city was great. We stayed in a cute little hotel, walked around and shopped at all the ferias artesanales (basically outdoor shops), went to a super cool cemetery, a tango-theater-turned-bookshop, the oldest cafe on the entire continent, a tango show, and took a bus tour around the city. It was amazing.
Finally, last weekend we went to San Pedro de Atacama, in Northern Chile. It’s the driest desert in the world, with some of the oldest cave and sand art in the world (which I just learned all about in my Prehistoric Art class so it was really cool to be there and see it). The first day, we got there at like 11am and we went on our first tour at 3pm, toLas Lagunas Salares, or the salt lakes. They’re 7x less salty than the Dead Sea, but 10x saltier than the ocean, so you can still float. We swam in them, but keep in mind that it’s winter here currently, and you MIGHT be able to imagine how cold we were.
The next day, we had to wake up at 3am to drive up to the top of a volcano (there were about a dozen in the area) to see some very cool geysers! They were all over 100 C (212 F) and the guide said that if you fall in them (people have), all of your skin is instantly burned off, your body goes into shock for a few days, and once that wears off and you start to feel the pain, you die because you can’t handle it. We were pretty scared after that, but we did take a few pictures. There was ONE really big geyser that was only 28 C (83 F) that you could swim in, but we decided not to since it was currently -15 C outside (about 5 F). After that, we went to an indigenous pueblo halfway down the mountain and walked around. It was really cool, but we hadn’t realized how thin the air was until we walked up a very very small hill to see their church and we had to stop three times to catch our breaths. (Picture of the hill below.)
After that (we were done at 11am!) we took naps, at lunch, and then head out for our next tour! I cannot describe to you how exhausted we were. By that point (1pm) it had warmed up to what felt like 60ish F, and we set out for Valle de la Luna and Valle de la Muerte (Valley of the Moon/Valley of Death). Northern Chile used to be basically one big salt mine, so these are both valleys and caves made almost entirely out of salt.
Now I swear this blog post is almost over. I just got back from that trip yesterday, after all. For now I’m back home in Viña, but not for long. Sunday I leave with my friend Kaci (the third one in the pictures from Atacama) to Easter Island, and from there we are going to Lima Peru next Wednesday, Cuzco Peru next Thursday, Aguas Calientes Peru that Saturday and then Machu Pichu Sunday! We get back to Chile just in time to pack, say our goodbyes, and come home, but I don’t want to think about that yet. I’m not ready to give up my days backpacking through the continent I’ve studied for so long. I’m not ready to come home.