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Chile: The Atacama

Posted on 24 July 2016 by Dreidel Regala

Atacama

Week 14

San Pedro de Atacama

The Atacama Desert. To some, it’s the driest place on earth. To others, a stargazer’s junction. To me, it’s Mars. It looks so much like it! Not that I’ve been to Mars already. But my imagination has and I think Mars is a perfect description to Atacama Desert.

San Pedro de Atacama

About 2,400m high in the Antofagasta region of Chile is the oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama. I went here a few days after entering the country from the north. Took an overnight bus (Turbus) which was supposed to take 12 hours from Arica but mine took longer. At some point in this 12+ hour journey the attendant took my passport and I think he said something about an inspection but I didn’t quite understand a lot of Spanish then. He did give it back though, the next day after the said inspection, but not after I asked him many many times about it. The inspection was pretty much straightforward save for food which has strict rules. Chile is dog-sniffing serious about this and some people end up being fined. By morning we’re near San Pedro and when I looked out the window I was convinced that I will never say no to NASA if they asked me to go to Mars. Let me say that again – hello NASA, I’m ready for Mars.

San Pedro de Atacama

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While the town is pretty small, it makes up for popularity. Throngs of outsiders busy themselves with the idea of desert cycling, sandboarding, stargazing parties, archaeological tours, and a visit to a salar, laguna or geyser. It’s very touristic and expensive but it’s kinda cute.

Valle de la Luna

Valle de la Luna or Moon Valley. Another cosmic reference in Atacama but it’s really otherworldly out there.

A vast land of sand and salt formation caused by wind and water coming from surrounding mountains. The valley’s landscape is so extraordinary that it has become well visited.

Atacama

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As I’m not keen on biking from San Pedro, I took a guided tour with a friend from one of the many shops in town. It was less than ch$10,000 with haggling if I remember right, excluding the ch$2,000 park ticket. We started around 4pm and went on until after sunset.

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These elements are actually alive. If you take the time to just quiet down and listen, you will hear the forming and unforming or the breathing they make.

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We were led through canyons, caverns, and slopes of salt and sand in red hue. How did all of these happen, I kept asking myself quietly as I followed everyone.

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The formation on the right is called Tres Marias and the one on the left is for your imagination.

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The guide let us wander for some time but there were areas that were off limits. Even if I don’t understand much Spanish I think the message is fairly obvious.

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Now this isn’t called the driest place in the world for nothing. The air really felt dry and the sun as if it was on your back. You should have water at the least. After sunset though you’ll need a jacket for the cold.

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Atacama

Sunsets in Valle de la Luna are magical. But turning around from it was my favorite. A palette of pink, purple, and blue with the moonrise was all it took. The moon in the picture below was the beginning stage of the Supermoon. Later in the evening we were out again to watch it turn blood-red.

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Tip: San Pedro de Atacama is close to Bolivia’s Uyuni Salt Flats. Many travelers go from one to the other by signing up on the many tour operators in both San Pedro and Uyuni.

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Patagonia: Torres del Paine for a non hiker

Posted on 28 May 2016 by Dreidel Regala

Torres del Paine

Week 19

Torres del Paine

Some ten thousand miles from Manila is a place called Patagonia. A region so vast it covers two countries – Chile and Argentina. Go to the south end of both and you’ll find yourself surrounded with trekkers from all over the world. Why? This is because the region is among the list of renowned climbs along with Everest, PCT, Mont Blanc, Kilimanjaro, and many others. From green landscapes to icy peaks, angry winds to shy animals, cold nights to pink mornings, Patagonia seems to be in the mind of trekkers looking for a beautiful challenge. But as for me, I don’t even dare say I’m a hiker. It’s not my first trek but my skill in this area has a lot of fine tuning to make. So with the abundance of excitement, I sorta forgot I’m not trained for Patagonia.

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales

It was early November when I got to Puerto Natales, Chile. The nearest city to Torres del Paine. It was this that made me decide to see the region. Go ahead and google images “Torres del Paine” and prepare to be amazed.

I stayed in Hostel Cuatro Estaciones which is in between the water and Unimarc. After a few minutes of checking me in, Yasna was already explaining to me in front of her wall map how to trek Torres del Paine and where to camp. Goes to show that this is the norm. And I’ll be the exception.

I decided to sit out a few days instead – walk around town, blog a little, and contemplate some more. I was almost considering the idea of doing the W. The W is the more famous circuit in Torres del Paine. It takes about 4-5 days and can either be from East to West or West to East until you form a W. I heard some people base their direction on the wind to make the walks easier. If I haven’t said it yet, the wind in Patagonia is a beast. The other circuit is the O or the full circuit. This one takes 10 days I think. The Torres del Paine trek is not an altitude trek so that’s a good thing there. The not so good is if you’re on a budget and can’t afford the luxury of a refugio stay, then you have to carry camping gear, add to that your food. But this is just a slight complication to the many trekkers that take on the challenge everyday.

Here’s a sample base expense that I found:

Bus to park (15,000 RT)

Park fee (18,000 valid for 3 days)

Camping gear (cheap rentals in town/hostel)

Campsite fee (some are free but some are paid 4,000 – 8,000)

Grey boat (15,000, can also opt to just walk it)

W circuit

W circuit. Photo by www.back-packer.org

I’ve met friends who did the W and many of them said that it’s fine for non-hikers too. Just take it at your own pace, they told me. And be prepared to encounter four seasons in a single day. As is the case when in Patagonia region, a rain/waterproof jacket can solve this although I didn’t have one. But again it’s possible to rent it out in town.

O circuit

O circuit. Photo by www.back-packer.org

And this is the O circuit.  By the looks of it, that’s a lot of nature day walking.

Now I said I almost considered the W. Until I didn’t.

One morning in the breakfast table of Cuatro Estaciones, I met Carina and we decided on the day tour. We’re both not prepared at the time on carrying a lot and camping in the cold. So the 25,000 tour was our price. This version was all spent in the park, no stop in Milodon cave. I think there were about 9 stops but some may have been due to our demand to “stop the car!” Compared to the google images I saw, the view of the torres in this tour are farther. I didn’t see the reflective lake beneath the torres but what I saw was good too. Those are not the kind of landscape I’m used to in the Philippines. So a bluish icy mountain surrounded by green-blue water made my heart skipped a beat. There were still some walks but nothing a kid can’t do.

Glacier Grey

The first stop was to see Glacier Grey. Quite cold in this area and super windy too. Here’s Carina trying to walk despite the wind. The glacier itself was very far from the shore but there were chunks floating in the lake.

Glacier Grey

Torres del Paine

After that we had lunch in this camp. The tour didn’t include lunch so we packed a sandwich and told stories with our tour mates who cycled around Patagonia but like they said – at our age, we don’t have to prove anything anymore, we just want to do it. That is so right, lovely couple!

Lake Pehoe

And this is Lake Pehoe or I just dreamt it.

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine

If you notice, the mountain is bluish. To be honest, I have no idea why. But it is the case so they named it Paine which is an old word for blue.

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine

And that’s a Guanaco. If the north has Llamas and Vicuñas, Torres del Paine has Guanacos. Behind him are the torres and those mountains are probably where the hikers are.

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine

We came home exhausted and sleepy. I came home unbelieving I really got to see that. It stuck with me that I couldn’t make myself leave the region. So I decided to backtrack and re-enter Argentina and sprint my way to El Chalten. I only had 4 days left in my Argentinian visa and I was that crazy I squeezed some Los Glaciares to that.

In the end, there’s no pressure. You don’t have to hike if you don’t want to. There are plenty of beauty around the park to be had. And I think I’ll be back for the others too.

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Street art: Sao Paulo, Valparaiso, Bogota

Posted on 11 February 2016 by Dreidel Regala

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Three cities in three countries. Sao Paulo, Valparaiso, and Bogota. All have something in common – street art.

Now I’m not an expert on this subject. I don’t even know the difference between graffiti, mural, street art, and urban art. But I like free and I like art so there’s that.

And when the morning came, I put on my shoes and started walking.

Open musuem #1 | Sao Paulo, Brazil

The neighborhood called Villa Madalena in Pinheiros is home to many art galleries and artsy restaurants. In this neighborhood I found Beco do Batman (Batman’s alley) where there is a long stretch of graffiti on display.

The good thing about Beco do Batman is that I didn’t have to wander all over the city because there is a good concentration of artwork in a single alley. Though that also means watchers are also concentrated here.

graffiti

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Tip: No need for a guide. Just go to Villa Madalena and ask for Beco do Batman.
Typical time spent: 40-90 minutes

Open museum #2 | Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso is a colorful city. Houses are painted with bright colors and walls are covered with art. But what I think is unique about Valpo is that it is hilly. There are at least eight hills (a.k.a. cerros) and they are not easy on the legs hence I only saw few murals.

But the hills aren’t all that bad actually. Makes the city look interesting especially with the colorful houses. Some murals can even be seen only from somewhere high because of the elevation.

The bad thing, taggers or those unpretty graffiti were a lot in this city.

graffiti

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I know I’m tired of taking these steps everywhere but they’re so cute!

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Tip: Take the free walking tour. It’s a city tour that already includes graffiti.
Typical time spent: 60-120 minutes

Open museum #3 | Bogota, Colombia

I love this capital city’s sweater weather but what I didn’t know was that I was going to love the street art just as much!

My art sighting was concentrated on the historical district of La Candaleria (though there are murals elsewhere too). It’s a bit of a walk but thankfully it’s mostly flat.

In this area (maybe even the city) street art is really part of the community. Establishments and residents seek out artists to dress their walls, doors, or whatever. Oh and the artists really do make a name for themselves, appearing on magazines, comics, and games. It’s still not straight out legal but it’s just a matter of city permit.

graffiti

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Sometimes it’s an unassuming rose on a gun.

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Sometimes it’s a sculpture up there so look up!

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Sometimes it’s hand painted.

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Sometimes it’s made of small objects.

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Sometimes it’s a potato with wings.

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Sometimes it’s a poster glued on the wall that will never come off.

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Sometimes it’s political.

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But mostly it’s beautiful.

Tip: Take the free graffiti tour. They take you to the good ones and explain it well too.
Typical time spent: 90-150 minutes

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Arica: Lauca National Park

Posted on 21 December 2015 by Dreidel Regala

lauca

Week 13

Arica

If you find yourself in the northernmost part of Chile – Arica – and you have the time then I suggest to go see Lauca National Park.

It’s quite interesting to find communities in the altiplano where it’s cold, dry, high, and surrounded by volcanoes. And it’s beautiful especially Chungara Lake. The tricky part though is that the park is found on the road to the Bolivian border which is mostly used by cargo trucks only. While I’m not sure about this, I think to go there one must take a tour or rent a car. However since there are communities up there, it is possible that there are local buses too.

***

I was staying in Sunny Days Hostel in Arica and was preparing to go to San Pedro de Atacama the following day when I suddenly remembered reading about Lauca National Park. “How much is the tour to Lauca?” I asked Ross, the hostel owner, when I found him in the dining area. He told me it’s 23,000 pesos but he has to check if there is a tour the next day. Thankfully there is.

“Do you think I’ll be fine with the altitude?” I’m not great with altitude. I can sometimes manage it but it’s never a breeze for me. In the end we agreed that I just drink coca tea in the morning and drink lots of water.

Lauca

After a few minutes, we arrived in Poconchile and saw the first church in Arica.

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Somewhere along the way we stopped to check out some really tall cactus but before we could get off the van, the guide said – “There’s a magnetic phenomena in this area, watch” – then the van started moving backwards. I honestly don’t know what that was about or where the pull is coming from so I just blurted – cool!

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And then it was Lauca National Park.

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At some point out there I started to feel the altitude. But it wasn’t super bad, I think I was sleepy more. Sleeping actually helped me keep the headache at bay.

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Getting a Chilean visa in Arequipa

Posted on 13 November 2015 by Dreidel Regala

Chilean visa

When I left the Philippines some months ago I didn’t have a Chilean visa. I know I wanted to see Patagonia but since I was traveling for awhile and I was flying to South America far into the future I couldn’t apply yet. Thankfully I read about Kach Medina’s post about how she got hers in Peru. She was right and it turns out to be much easier than applying in the Philippines.

Most of what she said is still the same but I had to give two other paperwork. In summary I gave this:

  1. Passport
  2. $60 (multiple entry)
  3. Proof of fund (print out from my online banking account)
  4. Hotel reservation (print out from booking.com)

Since I didn’t know about #3 and #4 I walked back to the hostel, booked stuff, printed them, and then walked back to the consulate. I had to do this the same day since I was trekking Colca Canyon next morning and will be gone a few days. To my surprise it was a lady behind the desk that time around so I had to restart the best Spanish conversation I could come up (everything else we were typing on google translate). She didn’t ask me for #3 and #4 so of course I didn’t initiate thinking I got away with that one. But I did have to sit down there a long time while she alternated between typing the application and greeting visitors. By the time she finished I was already standing behind her dictating what to type. She was so nice and even told me my Spanish was good but honestly most of the words just sounded Filipino to me.

I did have to give #3 and #4 though when I went back because the man remembered me.

Tip: Ask for the 90 day visa because Chile is long you need the time. Ask also for a multiple entry especially if you’re doing Patagonia. Technically you can do it without going outside of Chile but it is quite common to go back and forth Chile and Argentina in the south.

I do recommend this rather than applying in the Philippines because the paperwork is less. Plus you can get the 90 days multiple entry.

***

Consulado Honorario de Chile is in #212 Calle Mercaderes. On the right from Plaza de Armas in front of Interbank.

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