Sorry for the delay in our blogging - November has been full of a few days all over the place. Which has been amazing and makes for a great blog post!
Crossing the border from Peru to Chile was quite simple. We took a bus to Tacna, the southern most city in Peru, then got on a bus for Arica which is the first city in Chile. All we had to do was get off the bus, show them our passport and put our backpacks through security. For whatever reason, we had to do this multiple times throughout the bus ride - not sure why, but glad to know they are being extra cautious of who is coming into the country! Nate IS starting to look questionable with the beard he is growing...
Once we arrived in Arica, we quickly boarded another bus to San Pedro de Atacama - the first town we spent some actual time in! Reading information online it looked like a desert town, with a few fun hikes to do so we were excited to arrive. We stayed in a hostel for fairly cheap where we were allowed to camp in our tent, so that was nice. Walking around town to see what we could explore, we came across a company who took tourists sandboarding for the day. The price included a day of sanboarding in Death Valley (Valle de Muerte), a hike through Valley of the Moon (Valle de la Luna), and ending the day with a short hike (10 minutes) to the top of a mountain where we watched the sunset and had Pisco Sour, their national drink. It was such a fun day. We didn't want it to end! The instructor we had started the company 8 years ago and is incredibly talented. He was patient with all of the newbies, and after explaining the logistics, we were sandboarding down the hill! After a few times down the hill, we got the hang of it and it was a blast - decided we are picking up snowboarding when we get back home. The group we had was about 10-15 people so it was again a chance to meet people from all around the world and exchange stories. We had sand in every pore of our body and are STILL cleaning out sand from our hiking boots, but it was so worth it!
The next day, we decided to go back to Death Valley and hike up to the top (higher than where we sandboarded) because we heard the stars were amazing. And were they ever. We didn't even need our rain fly on the tent, because it is, after all, the desert, so it was incredible to see the stars light up the sky as we fell asleep. Hiking out in the morning, we made the decision to just chug the water we had left since we didn't have that much left, and then it would be in our system. Not our best move, since the hike out took a bit longer than we expected, but town was close and we were so excited to buy a big water when we returned. San Pedro de Atacama was full of tourists - something we didn't expect. In Peru, it was obvious we were the back packers in the towns, but here, we blended right in! There were back packers, couples, families, and old retired couples everywhere. The afternoon we were waiting for our bus to our next spot, we were sitting in the plaza, which was right across from a restaurant. The restaurant was easily $100/plate, with nice wine and the best service. Meanwhile, Nate and I, just 20 feet away, are splitting a can of tuna for lunch. Which was absolutely fine with us. But here is where I made the decision of how we are going to travel when we are old and retired. Ideally, Nate and I will work out and have money to travel. When we do, we will be eating at one of those fancy restaurants and invite the back packers who are barely getting by for a meal. And all we ask in return is stories of their travels. Until them, tuna it is :)
After San Pedro de Atacama, we made our way to La Serena. Looking online, we saw that it would be a fun beach town and we found another hostel that we could camp in! When we arrived, we decided to walk to the hostel from our bus stop, which would be about 45 min to an hour. Saving money on an expensive taxi ride was the goal. When we came to the address where the hostel was, we found nothing but scattered torn down buildings. Apparently it doesn't run anymore! We asked the locals for a hostel they recommended, and once again we were on the hunt for the address. When we arrived, we found for the second time that the hostel did not exsist! 0 for 2. Bummer. We made our way back to town (took the bus this time - it was really cheap), and searched more hostels. After looking at a few, we decided to just walk around the town and sure enough found a real, existing hostel, and they had room for us! So after this exciting day, we were very anxious to crash and get a good nights rest.
La Serena was colder than we expected, and wasn't really beach weather. We looked into the next town and were on a bus to Pisco Elqui the next morning. We found a hostle that also allowed camping and it was gorgeous. Our tent was right by a creek, there were bathrooms and showers to use, and it was a fun town to explore. We went on a Pisco tour (their national drink they are very proud of), and to our delight had to walk there. To bypassers, we probably looked like hitch hikers because it was inbetween 2 towns, but only took about an hour to walk there. At the end of the tour we were able to try samples and it was delicious. And to our delight, no one charged us for the tour. Definitely going to miss this drink when we go home!
After a few relaxing days camping and in Pisco Elqui we made our way to Santiago. Which is by far the largest city I have ever been to (about 5 million people). It was a little over whelming after the small, cute towns we have been in! It was a beautiful city filled with tons of history, which made for very fun exploring. We met a friend, Sebastian, who worked at a seafood restaurant and gave us a deal on amazing sea food, and didnt charge us for drinks! I had a plate of various raw sea foods, and Nate ate sea bass. We were so full that we didn't eat dinner until about 10:30 that night. Sebastian was incredibly friendly, nice and helpful with any Santiago attraction we wanted to see. So far, any new people we have met have been nothing but wonderful.
Leaving Santiago, we made our way to Pucon where we visited a National Park and hiked a volcano! This is also where the Strother family (my aunt, uncle and cousins) treated us to a nice hotel. It was my graduation gift from them and came just in time. We were thrilled to have a bit of a break from the hostels, and were incredibly grateful to spend the 2 nights in Monte Verde Hotel. It was rather entertaining to see the glances we got from old, wealthy couples as we strolled in with our backpacks. However, our very first night in Pucon, we stayed in a hostel because we arrived very late and wanted to spend all the time we could in the hotel! When we got off the bus, we were greeted by a women offering her hostel, and after looking at the business card she had, it seemed legit so we followed her to the hostel. When we walked in (this was also Thanksgiving night), we were immediately offered some homemade tomato soup by another guest. Very grateful indeed to have a place to stay that night and a friendly atmosphere.
The next morning we hiked the National Park and it was gorgeous. Beautiful lakes and amazing scenery anywhere you looked. We will upload pictures of the stunning views!
Once we settled into our hotel, we searched around for another activity and found out that you could hike the volcano right outside town. Thanks to the suggestion by Pat Benham! We found a company that was a bit pricey, but the spoke English (huge perk) and supplied all the equipment we needed. Starting the day at 7am, we had peaked the volcano by noon. About an hour of hiking was volcanic rock, then when we reached the snow, we put on cramp ons and got out our ice axe! It was a windy, chilly, snowy, breath taking view above the clouds as icy snow pelted our face from the gust of winds that randomly happened. We continued and weren't the only ones on the hike. There were about 10 tour guides also going up, each with roughly 10-15 tourists. So we were all headed in the right direction and definitely safe if anything happened - because any where you looked, there was a helping hand. As the temperature dropped, we kept climbing, higher and higher until we were literally above the clouds, and the only thing above us was the sky because we had reached the summit. Did I mention it was an active volcano? The smell of sulfur filled our noses, but we didn't mind with the amazing views we were looking at. The volcano was billowing smoke, threatening to blow up at any second. We felt on top of the world. The last time it erupted was 1984, so we felt relatively safe... And then to our surprise, we slid down! It was a giant sledding contest, and also rather scary flying down the side of a volcano. Our ice axe was the break, but another common method was running into each other, or rolling off the track. It took about 4 hours to hike up, and only 30 minutes to reach the bottom. We were back home by 3pm, and didn't move. Nate relaxed in the sauna, and I realized I am not the biggest sauna fan...
Now we are in Puertto Montt, planning for our volunteering starting December 1. We will be working on some land in Patagonia, doing random jobs, helping the owner out by one day turning it into an Eco lodge! We unfortunately will be out of contact for all of December, so Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!! Before we go to the land, we will be in the Chiloe island and hopefully we will update a blog during that time.
Love, Maddy and Nate