I lied. Hostel tonight. Which means I can talk to you. And show you the five million pictures I managed to take today.
So Punta Arenas Is the largest city in the southernmost region of Chile, and more or less the jumping off point for Torres del Paine, a National Park with the most spectacular views of the world, and Tierra del Fuego and Antarctica and the Strait of Magellan. In Santiago, it’s a sunny, hot little slice of summer at the moment, and I loved every second. Here, obviously, it is much, much colder, with temperatures hovering somewhere around 30 and 40 degrees. Being fortified by the hardy Minnesota winters, I feel like I can handle this, though I am still not prepared—I left all my warmest gear at home, and with temps falling below freezing at night, and the wind, and the fact that I am a total prncess about the cold, I’m a bit concerned that I might freeze. Still, I’ll figure it out.
Today was spent wandering through the town, taking pictures of colors and graffiti and graveyards, before catching a boat to Magdalena Island, home to over 60,000 pairs of Magellanic Penguins. Yes. Penguins. Always a good decision.
A couple of you have asked (mom and dad), so here is some back story on my current company: my friend in Santiago has a lovely au pair named Nina, who has a lovely friend named Elisa, who have been planning (“planning”) this excursion for a couple months. When Shareena, my Santiago bestie, asked me if I was interested, of course I jumped all over that. I was going to have to figure it it on my own, so what luck! The sleeping bag I bought off my first friends in Ecuador proved to be me of the most worthwhile purchases yet, and I am only kicking myself for not loading up on llama gear in Cusco, where it was all so dirt cheap, and for not buying those hiking boots before I got to Chile, which has an economy on par—if not exceeding, for all intents and purposes—the United States (read: shit got expensive). So, here I find myself, willingly putting myself on glacial territory (those tundra jokes I used to throw around in Minneapolis are having me now), with some lovely girls who, though perhaps no more prepared for camping than I am, are at least very enthusiastic about it. Nina is from Germany, Elisa is from Italy, and together, we make quite a group. It’s funny to hear the different accents in all our Spanish.
I have rented a tent, which I am prepared to pitch for five nights without any help in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I have two pairs of llama socks and a jar of nutella. I left my shampoo in Santiago on purpose. But I still have my red lipstick, because some things will never change.
I have spent the past three days kind of wandering around Santiago, mostly drinking wine and chilling out, recovering and mentally preparing myself for the next thing: Tierra del Fuego. Chilean Patagonia. I leave in mere hours on an early flight, and I will be camping (literally) at Parque Nacional Torre del Paine and, I don’t know, hanging out on glaciers and stuff. I don’t think I have the right shoes, my pants are probably too thin, I might freeze, but it’s going to be worth it. Do yourself a favor and don’t google it. You’ll be sick with jealousy.
I’m sorry, but it’s true. I’m trying to save you, dear reader, from very avoidable grievances.
But the point is, I have no idea how online I will be for the next ten days. Nobody freak. I’m probably not going to get eaten by a polar bear. Just be content knowing that I am enjoying nature without wifi.
The 30-hour bus ride from Arica to Santiago, as exhausting as it was, was rewarding in one unforgettable aspect: the Atacama Desert, with its Martian-like landscape and endless peaks, was my backdrop for the majority of the ride.
Nothing has ever seemed so simultaneously lonely and beautiful. Cloudless blue skies stretching boldly over dunes and rocky mountains, with a palate of sand running from dirty rust to milky white. The driest desert in the world, which receives less than 1mm of rain a year, where there are geysers and 6,500m mountain peaks with no snow, is one of the most alien lands I have ever passed through. It had its own power in a way, a deadly sort of quiet where as long as nothing was disturbed, everything would remain.
And then, finally, Santiago. I’m currently recouping at the stately apartment of a very generous friend, until Monday, when I leave for Tierra del Fuego and camping in the Parque Nacional Tierra del Paine. I spent all of yesterday wandering around Santiago, stopping for drinks and dishes at various little places and generally having a grand time.
Santiago reminds me a little bit of Austin, Texas: high quality of life, chill vibes, lots of art. What is possibly the most striking about Santiago is the way all the traffic observes and obeys traffic signals, and there aren’t four lanes of cars trying to squeeze into a two lane road, and people don’t use their horns like a blinker. Santiago seems so much more chilled out, far less chaotic. The people here are friendly, if not a little reserved, but are utterly eager to please. This is a town I could get used to, that’s for sure.
Arica is like a movie set. Some dusty, desert beach town with a bustling main strip (“el Centro”), filled with mostly Chilean tourists sucking down ice cream cones and pitchers of beer. There are a number of lonely, desolate looking hotels—or motels, remember when that word was still in use? They aren’t really motels in the strict sense of the word, but they have that feeling to them—outdated, a little sad, retro without meaning to be and not in the cool way. The beaches have dark, smooth, hothothot sand and deep blue water that rushes up to take children by surprise.
There is sometimes a buzzing, sweltering silence in the air, which hangs above the cries of the vendors and low whistles of the men leaning into corners and the clap of ladies’ impossible shoes. It smells like sweat and salt and churrascuro, with just a hint of sultry nights. I keep waiting for a Brad Pitt type to wander past, mirage-like, swaggering and sliding up to modems smoldering Latin beauty with a rose between her teeth—but this is neither Miami nor Buenos Aires.
I have been stranded here, more or less, since early Monday morning, when, after 10 or so hours on a bus from Puno to Tacna, then two more crossing the border in a crammed colectivo taxi from Tacna to Arica, I found myself at the very early hour of 8 AM (technically, 6 AM, but Chile jumps ahead of Peru by two hours) with the earliest bus to Santiago (my ultimate destination, my holy land) not in the realm of possibility until 11 PM on Wednesday (tonight, in about an hour). I was immediately crushed, but bought the ticket anyway and spent the next hour with some unfortunate cabbie, trying to find a hostel—but Arica is the northernmost border-slash-beach town in Chile, and all the college kids are on holiday, and they all made reservations, those bastards. So I spent $40 for one night in a desperate hotel room with cracked plaster and beetles and no bathroom window and cold water and no fan and no breeze.
Still, I survived (there was an English channel on a Criminal Minds marathon), and I had stable wifi and was close to the strip and the beach, and yesterday I spent a great deal of time tanning (to no effect whatsoever) and eating maracuya ice cream and people watching. I switched hotels and I FINALLY found tequila—a substance regrettably absent in Ecuador and Peru—and have managed to be lazy and waste most of the past three days, which, retrospectively, was entirely necessary, given the fact that all the climate change and extreme traveling was probably going to have me seriously sick without a little rest.
Chile has been good to me so far. I think I’m going to like it here.