I am loving life – living in such a beautiful part of Canada. I love the ocean and the mountains – I have the best of both worlds living here.
My South American journey has come to an end. I arrived back in Canada on Wednesday evening, after missed connections and travelling back to LAX and then to Toronto. My son and his friend excitedly picked me up at the airport (to applause! – that was fun haha).
I had an amazing time in Chile, and can recommend to everyone to take some time to explore the entire country. From Santiago north to Arica, there is so much to see and discover. I have made a list of my highlights of my trip.
Santiago was the first stop, and was a typical big city with some interesting barrios, delicious food and amazing scenery.
- The Andes – the incredible mountains looking over the city. Absolutely stunning to see from all parts of the city.
- Cerro San Cristobal – the hike up to the top of the hill was breathtaking. The statute was so amazing to see up close, and the entire trip to go up to the top was great exercise. The ride down on the funicular was slightly terrifying for me, but was fun.
- Barrio Bellavista – the area at the bottom of Cerro San Cristobal is teeming with funky bars, restaurants, shops and graffiti filled buildings.
Valparaiso/Vina del Mar
Second stop was Valparaiso. The funkiest city I experienced in Chile. It was cool, eclectic and had an edge to it. I would travel back to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar.
- Graffiti – almost every other building had street art or graffiti filling it. Incredible art to see. Every turn found more art to view. Stunning!
- The beaches – Vina del Mar had the most pristine beaches, the incredible first views of the Pacific Ocean and the walks along the beach.
- The food – so many different varieties of food to try, the aromas, the taste. It was delicious to wander the streets and try new foods.
This pretty little town set between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean was breathtaking. The sunsets over the ocean, viewed from my terrace at the hostel, was my evening ritual. I couldn’t get enough of walking through the streets and seeing the sites.
- The festival square – I arrived on a Sunday morning and wandered down to the main square, where a festival was taking place. The music, the food, the crowds of people – it was a feast for the eyes and nose!
- The views – most impressive views of the ocean.
- The calmness – I was impressed with how calm the city was. Everyone walking around seemed so relaxed and happy – I would be happy living there too.
The “pearl of the north”. Antofagasta is a city that offers so much – it is on the edge of the Atacama desert, so it is a dry city. Not much rain falls here, but it is fascinating. It prepared me for the dryness of the desert.
- The sea life – sea lions, pelicans – but sadly no penguins. The fish. It was very cool to see the sea lions and pelicans.
- Seafood – the seafood of the Pacific is the best I have ever had. Antofagasta has many restaurants to sample so many different fish dishes.
- The wharf – I spent most of my days wandering down to the wharf, to watch the fishing boats, to eat fresh fish, to people watch. Antofagasta was a very pleasant surprise!
San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro – the driest desert on earth. It was dry, dusty, I felt like I was in the old west – the adobe buildings, the stray dogs – it had such an interesting feel to it. I discovered a lot about myself here, and overcame fears I have had in my life.
- Valle de la Luna – the Moon Valley. The most incredible part of my entire trip to Chile. Sounds a bit corny but it truly was life-changing for me.
- Pukara de Quitor – a visitor’s area about 30 minute walk from San Pedro. Walking across a river, climbing to the second rest stop, and looking out over the valley. Worth the sunburn I got!
- The Milky Way – I was lucky to have been in a hostel that I had another terrace to sit out on. And we were far enough away from the town’s lights that I could look up in the sky and see millions of stars and the milky way. Incredible!!
Surf City!! My last stop and I picked a great place to end my trip. I spent almost every day on the beach. Such a relaxing way to end this amazing trip.
- Playa Chinchorro – my beach of choice. A 10 minute walk from my hostel. A 5 km beach with white sand, warm waters, body boarders, and surfers. Lots of fun to watch!!
- 21 Mayo Av – the pedestrian street in Arica – restaurants, little shops, street vendors, buskers (rapping in Spanish is always interesting to hear!) – something for everyone!
- San Marcos Cathedral – the Cathedral that was designed by Gustav Eiffel – such a unique cathedral to see.
I am now back in Canada for a couple of years – but I will still continue to take small trips while I am here. For now, I am going to get back to being a Canadian and taking in all things Canadian. I will enjoy being back with my family and friends.
My week started off with a late arrival on Sunday. Monday had me wandering around the town, seeing what there was to offer and just getting a general feel of the area. It was dry and dusty – of course! But there was a certain feel to the town. A feeling, to me, that something was going to happen here but I just wasn’t sure what. Monday ended with me sitting on my terrace of my two floor, apartment-style hostel (I really do love hostels!), watching the milky way and a million stars. I had no idea just how spectacular it was to see the milky way!!
The square of San Pedro
The volcanoes of the Andes
Tuesday I had booked the morning tour with Tours 4 Tips – again cannot say enough about this company! If anyone is in Valparaiso, Vina del Mar, Santiago or San Pedro – book the walking tours with these guys! Absolutely phenomenal!! Anyway – it turns out I was the only one scheduled for the tour so I had the pleasure of a private tour with a lovely guide by the name of Pauline, a French girl who fell in love with an Atacamen boy and stayed in San Pedro. She was full of knowledge and so much energy – I had such a lovely time – and what was supposed to be a two hour tour was almost a three hour tour because we talked about so many other things. She deserved even more of a tip than I gave her!
My awesome private tour guide Pauline
A very salty tree that grows in the desert
Tuesday night a big windstorm happened, and it continued all day on Wednesday. I am not a fan of blowing sand in my eyes, so the day was spent doing very little. I managed to go out and get some fruit and vegetables at the monthly market that Pauline told me about – it was awesome! Everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – was sold there. Even a kitchen sink!!! I spent about two hours browsing the market, sitting in the town square, getting some lunch, then headed back. I had booked the Valle de la Luna tour for that night but it was cancelled because of the wind. I re-booked for Friday afternoon.
Licancabur Volcano in the distance
Thursday- I headed out to Pukara de Quitor, an area just outside of San Pedro. I walked, and it took about an hour to walk there. A local man said – oh just cross the river and walk for about 20 minutes – turns out you actually have to cross a river! Good thing I was wearing my boots – my feet didn’t get wet at all traipsing through the river! On to Pukara de Quitor – I had been told it was a hill you could climb and have a lovely view of San Pedro. No one told me it was an actual visitor’s site that cost money – good thing I almost had enough – the lovely lady at the desk let me pay the student’s fee. Gracias! So, I headed to the “hill” – it was more than a hill but not quite a mountain. I met a lovely mother and daughter and we ended up going up together. I conquered a big fear that day – I normally do not climb anything that has no railing to grab on to in case I feel I need to – well there was no railing and I managed to get up to the second rest stop (almost to the top). A HUGE feat for me. I was very proud of myself, and was also amazed at the view at this point. Walked back down and headed back to town. I was so proud of myself, that I took myself out to the best burger place in town – and it truly was the best burger. Thursday, at that point, was the most amazing day of my entire trip. Until….
Friday happened. I woke up to a beautiful blue sky, no wind, the temperature was just right. A perfect setting for my Valle de la Luna tour at 4pm. I arrived, backpack ready with water, sunscreen and my coat for the cooler temperatures near the end of the tour. With the group, we loaded on to the van to head out to the Valley. I had asked if I needed to be in really good shape, was this difficult, etc., and I was assured that it was not that difficult. Well, turns out, it was more difficult, both physically and mentally, for me than I had imagined it would be. The beginning was easy, a nice easy sandy slope towards this hill. As we got up a bit higher, I noticed that the people ahead of me were turning left, and some were stopping, gasping and looking up. This did not bode well for my fear of heights! As I got to that point – I stood there in complete shock. This was not just a hill. This was rock and sand, climbing up the side of the hill, about 200 metres (this is what Klaus, the guide, told us after). I was petrified and frozen in the spot. I looked up and just said No. Klaus was encouraging me, saying I could do it, he would help me. I just kept shaking my head and saying no. I was so completely afraid, I didn’t know what to do. But then I saw a couple about my age, maybe a bit older, going ahead and doing it and I thought I can do this too. I just don’t look down. Well, I got about half-way up – and couldn’t go any further. I was frozen. And on the verge of tears. I was absolutely petrified. And Klaus – my hero – told me to just wait and he would help me. So there I was, on the side of a “hill”, waiting for someone to drag me up there. He came back, talked to me, told me it was okay to cry, told me to take deep breaths, and that I could do it. After several minutes (felt like hours), he finally got me on the right track, I put my foot and leg where he wanted me to, grabbed his arm and had complete faith in him that he was going to get me up – and I did it. I made it up to the top. The other members of the group were cheering me on, and congratulating me. I just felt like crying and would not stand up LOL. After that, there were two other hills but nothing like that. I was shaking the whole time, but I DID IT!!! I was so proud of myself, and proved to myself that no matter the obstacle, I can do it, with lots of encouragement and Klaus holding me up haha. I made such a huge breakthrough that day – I have many fears and now I know that I just need to take deep breaths, tell myself I can do it – and just do it. At the end of the tour, we went to the lookout to watch the sunset over the valley, and I said a little thank you to the universe/God/my spirits/my guardians. Truly the best day of my time in Chile.
The entrance to Valle de la Luna
The three sisters
The view from the “hill” – I made it!
My hero, Klaus, and I standing at the top of the hill!
The amazing sunset in the Valley
Saturday, it was my last day. I did a final walking tour in the afternoon, enjoyed some lunch in the square and headed to the bus station for an overnight bus ride to Arica.
After the Saturday tour, the group – three Canadians and two Australians!
The square – one last time
San Pedro was amazing – I will never forget what this town, and this entire trip, has shown me about myself. My strength, my attitude and my life – so many ways I have changed and all for the good. I LOVE CHILE!!
When I decided to travel through Chile, I did the basic research of the country, read information about each city I would see and looked at pictures. I made myself a list of must~sees, but really I just wanted to discover what Chile was about. The people, the food, the way of life. What I didn’t expect was to discover so much about me.
Chile is a very long and narrow country. The country has such a diverse nature to it. From the glaciers in the south to the desert in the north, and the Andes creating a border with Argentina, Bolivia and Peru ~ there are so many unique qualities to this country it is staggering. The natural beauty of this country is overwhelming. It has taken my breath away on more than one occasion.
There is also a great variety of food to be found. From Peruvian to sushi, from pizza to Chinese, you can find almost any kind of food here. And the pastries!! Its a good thing I walk at least three hours a day here! I have yet to try Chilean wine or Pisco Sour but I will.
The people here struggle with English but are still anxious to help. They want to teach me Spanish and I have been trying ~ it is getting better. I have met incredibly lovely people on my travels, and all ask where I am from, why am I in their city, have I tried Empanadas or the pescado, have I enjoyed a Pisco sour and, my favourite question ~ where is my husband? The older ladies seem genuinely concerned that I have no husband and am traveling solo! Their reaction amuses me.
The lifestyle here is similar to Europe ~ relaxed, easy going and very family oriented. Siesta time is fascinating ~ stores close, families gather at a park, and they play, eat and rest. Such a difference from China where the children are so busy all the time that they are tired and not relaxed at all.
The thing that has struck me most is what I have discovered about myself. I no longer care about materialistic things, I have all that I need. I have discovered how strong I am, both physically and mentally. I have also discovered my limitations (Macchu Picchu is off my list). But most of all, I have discovered that, regardless of what others think about me, I am very proud of what I have accomplished and how far I have come.
They say travel changes you. I don’t think it’s changed me. I think it has awakened me in how I view the world. I have a different attitude now. I am more accepting. And I have said this many times but it bears repeating ~ I am so grateful for this amazing journey I am on. I am grateful for the opportunities that have been give. And I know its not over ~ I have many years left.
So I am just going to keep on trekking and exploring!
I have been in Antofagasta now for a few days, and while I spent the first few days in a hostel in the north end of town, it was just a temporary place. I am now in the place I wanted to be in, close to the city centre and walking to the pier. This hostel is pretty awesome – huge common room with a TV. They serve breakfast in the morning. And they clean your rooms on a daily basis!! Not a normal thing for hostels – so a nice pleasant surprise. Oh – and they have a laundry service here too (thank goodness – I desperately needed to wash my clothes!)
My initial opinion of Antofagasta was a wary one. I was quite far from the city centre at first, almost an hour’s walk away. It was a nice walk but to get there, look around, and then have to walk back (I could have figured out the bus I am sure but never bothered), it made for sore legs and long days. I am not one for being out at night alone in strange countries, so I made sure I was back in plenty of daylight. The new place is in a busy area and I don’t mind being out later than I normally would be (like 8pm haha).
loved this hat!!
part of a family park beside the ocean
I have chosen to stay for 10 days in Antofagasta – the longest time I’ll be in any city in South America. If I had known that I would have loved La Serena as much as I did, I would have stayed longer there. However, I can’t change it now. I like the vibe of Antofagasta, and I love being down by the pier. So much to see – the boats, sometimes you can see the head of a sea-lion playing in the ocean, the food stands, the families all going down there to buy fresh fish (but a reminder – they do not fish on Mondays so no fresh fish – don’t buy fish on Mondays!). It’s a lovely feel to this town and I really like it.
a rocky day at sea!
The street art and graffiti seen in South America is fascinating and Antofagasta is no different. They have paintings on the walls that are life-like. The graffiti is interesting. And I feel quite safe here, despite the reputation that some port towns here have.
life-like paintings (and real statues)
more life-like paintings
I am taking it easy this week, leisurely wandering around, and I will make it out to see the Portada (but must take a cab there, there is no bus and too far to walk!). There are restaurants I want to try. I am enjoying the relaxing week I have here. After this, my time will be shorter in each place I go – so I am taking advantage of the rest.
I have now been in Chile for two and a half weeks (seems like it’s been a lot longer!), and there are many things I have discovered about this beautiful country I am visiting.
One is the stray dog situation. Every city, town and village has them. I don’t really understand this but these dogs are not starving by any means. The people feed them, leave out water for them, and pet them when the dogs come up to them. The dogs are not vicious by any means, at least not to people. However, these dogs bark ALL THE TIME. Constantly. Day and night. I understand that this is the way they communicate with each other, but man it’s annoying at night.
The food here is out of this world. While I do miss the food in China (dumplings, noodles… I need to find a Chinese restaurant!), I just cannot get enough of the food here. Empanadas, churrascos, posteles, and their own soda, BIlz (I am sadly becoming addicted to this – it’s like cherry soda – not cherry coke!). Cheese is quite expensive so I only have things with cheese while I am out. The soups are delicious, the “carne” is amazing – it’s time for me to get back into cooking I think. Food is life!!!
The amazing scenery here. I am writing this blog today, sitting on my terrace in La Serena, watching the Pacific in front of me, and the Andes are behind me. Sadly, this is my last full day in La Serena. I really enjoyed Santiago, loved Valparaiso, but I think my heart is here in La Serena. I don’t know how anything will top this city, but I am excited to find out!! Tomorrow night, I head for Antofagasta, and the desert, and ocean. I can’t wait.
I love Chile!!!!
Vina del Mar is beautiful!! I am in love with the Pacific Ocean, and if I could possibly afford to live there, I would be here. But it’s expensive – but it’s nice to have been able to see it.
A band playing at the front of a park
The trees here are amazing and HUGE!
Playa del Acapulco
Valparaiso in the distance
I love this picture
I have arrived in Santiago Chile!! After many gruelling days of flights, long layovers, and general exhaustion – I arrived in Santiago yesterday (August 12). I am very confused as to what day it is, and the time! I will get used to it in a day or two I am sure!
My flights took me to Tianjin China, Seoul South Korea, Los Angeles California, and Santiago. Tianjin was the first night and I slept in the airport with probably 50 other people. It’s not the best sleep I got, but at least I had about 4 hours of sleep there. On to Seoul!
Seoul airport is the most beautiful airport I have ever seen in all my travels! So many things to do. The airport and the city of Seoul offer free city tours, and since I had a layover of 9 hours, I took advantage of two of them. I saw two temples, and the Korean war memorial. And then, probably the best part (which is a little sad for me to admit haha) was the free showers in the airport!! Yes, after sleeping in an airport and knowing that I had two VERY LONG flights to come, I took advantage of the free shower facilities. I would love to spend more time in Seoul when it was extremely hot and humid, and see more of the city. It looks very beautiful!!
Next stop ~ LAX – aboard a Korean Air flight. A very impressive airline – comfortable, decent food and very friendly and helpful staff. This was an 11 hour flight – but it wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. I was so tired and probably slept for about 7 hours of it.
LAX is just a big American airport, with lots of guards walking around. I was not impressed with the airport OR the prices there. So expensive!!! And the line ups to get through security and customs – the customs guy was very nice but it took a long time. I was glad to get out of there.
LATAM was my final flight to Santiago. Service was good, food was good (stuffed cheese pasta AND cheesecake – yeah I was happy to have cheese again!! ), AND a LOT of turbulence. Of course that is no fault of the airline. There was little sleep for me that last flight, probably due to a combination of anticipation, excitement, turbulence and being tired of being in planes. About an hour, maybe 2 – and it was a 13 hour flight. I was happy to hear that we were descending into Santiago!!
So I have made it. I am set up in a nice studio apartment for the first leg of this trip. I have had a very good night’s sleep and am ready to see the city!!! I am excited to get out and explore this intriguing city that I have chosen as my first stop!!
I still feel like it’s a dream that I am actually in South America.
After reading many many MANY blogs and reviews about traveling, and backpacks, and luggage, and looking at all the pros and cons, I have succumbed to living the life of a traveler, and have purchased a backpack. A 55 litre backpack, with padded shoulder pads and a padded waistband, and so many other features it is mind boggling. Some of the features I don’t even know what they are for!
I have fought off buying one. I thought that a suitcase would be more practical, I could carry more things, it has four wheels so its easy to push around. But when it comes right down to it, I don’t need all the stuff I have. I need clothes, my important papers, minimal footwear (boots and runners), and other small incidentals. The bigger the suitcase, the more you are going to bring. It’s all about minimalism.
My life is so very different from 20 years ago, as I am sure most people’s lives are. Back then, I had a house, a husband (haha) and so many things. I was happy with all of that then, but as time went by, my mind shifted and I realized that things don’t make me happy ~ people and experiences make me happy.
I don’t need stuff. I need to travel. So a backpack is the way to go for me. This does NOT mean I will backpack through countries (I still want to be comfortable!), but it does mean no baggage check in, and easier to get around the world with my possessions on my back rather than dragging along beside me.
So a backpacker I have become!! A new era of Louise has begun!!