Monday, January 30, 2012

San Martin de Los Andes, Argentina 14-16 Jan 2012

The journey from Pucon, Argentina to San Martin, Chile took 5 hours. I arrived at this beautiful Lake Lalog Julio my host picked me up, his house is 4km from town situated at the hill side with the view of the valley. A perfect place for retirement! At 50 he has retired from his job, he was working with IBM for the past 20 years as an architect. As we both are from the IT world, we had great conversation about technology. :-) He now retired and enjoy life fishing and playing golf. What a life! I am working towards it. :-)

He had planned for fishing the next day with his boat, we met his friends at the lake around noon, first we stopped at a beach to setup our picnic table. There we were not allowed to set any camp fire with a huge warning sign but Julio said they do it all the time. We had asado, beer, wine and choripan. The water in the lake was cold, Julio has brought his mask, wetsuit and fins for me to snorkel but I chicken out. :-)

After a great lunch, we went fishing with the boat. They called it Fly Fishing, there were many type of colorful bates that looks like insets. It depends on the season, the trout has a specific favour of different insets at different time of the day and year. We attached 2 type of fishing line to the rode, the first 1 meter is the transparent floating line and follow with the dark color sinking line. We have to cast our line near to the shore where the trout used to live. We were 4 of us on the boat, Julio was at the front casting his line, one drive the boat and Puky and I was trawling at the back. Julio was the one that caught most of the trout. He was casting the line like an expert. I caught one at the end, but most part of the fishing was waiting and waiting. I was just enjoying the sun and the landscape around the lake. We released all the trout we caught back to the lake, if we want to keep the fish, only one fish is allowed per licensed. This is a good way to control the population of the trout in the lake. Fishing reminds me of my dad, he is the expert at home. I remembered he taught me how to attach the live frog to the hook and how to cast the line but I failed to catch any fish. 

I was grateful to met Julio who has given me such opportunity to go fishing in Lake Lalog. The experience will be totally different if I were to stay in a hostel. Couchsurfing has made wonders so far, especially for people like Julio who was so gladly to share his passion with others. 


Bus from San Martin de Los Andes to Bariloche– P68.50


Pucon, Chile 11-14 Jan 2012

Pucon is a touristy town by Lake Villarrica. It was cold when I arrived 7:30am in the morning. The town was still asleep. I found my hostel with the last spot available, lucky as I didn’t make any reservation. I will have to make reservation from now on because it is the high season till February. The price for accommodation has also risen due to the high season. 

I have booked myself for the hike up to the crater of the snowcapped Volcan Villarrica standing at 2840m above sea level. Climbing to the top is non technical, on a clear non windy day is easy. As I walked to the town, I realized how enormous it is. I can’t imagine how it will be hiking with crampons, ice axe, and windproof clothing. 

We started at 7am, by the time we gathered everyone and leave, it was almost 8am. It was a 45mins drive to the Ski Station where one can choose to take the ski lift up for the first 300m. There were many people, around 200 people attempt to climb each day, but not all make it up. The inclination was about 45° upwards but we did zig zag to reduce the inclination. We had 2 guides one at the front and one at the end, we were given a briefing on how to use the ice axe and how to walk on the snow. It was not as tough as I thought it will be. We did a few stops on the way to admire the spectacular view of the other volcanoes around. It got a bit tougher near to the top as the wind picked up. At times I could feel that I will be blown away if not for my ice axe. 

We finally made it up by 1pm, the smell of sulfur was strong, we had to keep our face covered from the toxic smoke. The wind was extremely strong on the rim, I could hardly stand straight for a photo. We spent about 30 minutes to enjoy the view and took tons of photos then it the way down. Here is the best part of the whole trip, I usually do not enjoy hiking down a mountain but this time we slide! :-) We slide down on our butt most part of the snow slope, it was so much fun. Best experience ever!

I met Natali from Canada in the hostel, we both decided to rent a bike the next day. We cycled thru the 20km forest and river, we stopped at Salto Carileufu, a river with crystal clear icy water. It was refreshing to soak in the water just for a couple of seconds. :-) Then we continue to Ojos del Caburgua, a waterfall that has a circle pool with 4 falls running into it. Awesome!

The hard part was at the end where we had to cycle back 20km on the main road with extremely hot weather and strong wind blowing against us. We did the entire 40km in 5 hours including a 1.5 hours break. 

Pucon is a beautiful town with lots of nature and adventure but it is just too crowded and busy. From here I took a bus to San Martin de Los Andes in the Argentinean side. 

Hostel Navita – P90000 after 10% discount from HOLA with breakfast and WIFI

Bus from Valparaiso to San Martin de Los Andes – P12000
Ski lift – P6000 one way

Hiking Volcan Villarrica – P36000
5 hours bike rental – P5000
Entrance to Ojos del Caburgua – P500

Valparaiso, Chile 6-9 Jan 2012

Valparaiso was recommended to me by Nhat whom I met in La Paz. It is only 2 hours from Santiago de Chile, located by the coast. The city principle economic activities are shipping, petroleum refining and tourism. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. I was surprised by the beauty of this town.

My host-Rodrigo and his family were extremely friendly, his parent lives by the central and when I arrived I was welcome with a delicious lunch. His mom made Cazuela de pollo, a typical Chilean soup with potato, rice, chicken, a piece of corn, and a slice of lime. 

I met another couchsurfer-Sergio from Santiago de Chile who was visiting Valparaiso for the day. We had a great time together, visiting the weekend antique market, taking the wooden lift or “ascensor” up the hill, walking through all the small street and admiring all the graffiti on the wall and steps, enjoying a beer by the balcony overseeing the town and sea, had a delicious seafood lunch at the market and took a boat ride in the bay. I took tons of photos of graffiti on the wall, really like them maybe because it is rare in Malaysia or Singapore, everyone was unique and colorful. 

I also visited Vina del Mar, a beach town 20mins from Valparaiso. The beach is packed with summer holidayers and umbrellas. Not pretty at all. Here it has a different vibe, a modem town with condos and stretch of restaurants by the sea, looks more classy and expensive.

I was planning to go to Pucon from Valparaiso but Sergio told me about this Salsa school in Santiago de Chile which I couldn’t resist so I went back to Santiago for another day. Sergio hosted me and we had fun dancing salsa and celebrating his birthday.

After Santiago, I left for Pucon, a beautiful town by Lake Villarrica and Volcan Villarrica.


Bus from Valparaiso to Santiago de Chile – P4000
Cable car – P300 one way


Santiago de Chile, Chile 3-6 Jan 2012

The border crossing from Argentina to Chile took longer than expected due to the New Year holiday. We arrived at the custom office around 4am in the morning, surprisingly it was a combination of Argentinean and Chilean custom office. We check out from Argentina and check in to Chile at the next counter.  This is the first time I seen two country sharing one custom office. After we get our entry stamp to Chile, we have to bring our bags into a big room where they scan all the bags. No fresh food or fruits are allowed to enter Chile. The entire process took about 1 hour. We arrived in Santiago de Chile around 8am with 2 hours delay.

I found my host house which is 3 stations away from the terminal. The metro system makes it convenient and easy to travel in town. The weather was hot but not as hot as Mendoza. I finally left the house around 1pm. Central is 10 blocks away from my host house. I walked around town and found a Chinese Restaurant, :-) after all the meat, pizza and sandwiches in Argentina, I am up for a Chinese meal. Surprisingly I had the best Seafood Fried Rice since I left Asia. There were lots of vegetables and prawn mixed in the rice. It was delicious! As Chile has an enormous coastline, fish and seafood are almost everywhere. The Mercado Central in town served the best seafood. I had a BBQ Swordfish for lunch the next day and it only cost around $12.

The architecture in town was a mix of new and old. There were a lot of walking streets covered with trees and sheltered from the sun. It was very nice to visit the town on foot. Most of the museum and touristic place are located close by. There was a hill in the town called Cerro Santa Lucia, a park with fountains and stairs leading up to the fort and viewpoint at the top where we could view the city and the range of mountains around but the pollution from the cars has cut down the visibility.

I especially like the artisan market opposite Cerro Santa Lucia, they sells lots of card magnet, stones and copper jewellies and wooden handicraft. The Centro Cultural Palacio de La Moneda is also worth a visit because it has a big exhibition area and some craft and souvenir shop.

Empanada de pino
A street drink that is a must to try is the Mote con Huesillos, it is a sweet drink which contains wheat seeds, dried peach or apricot served cold. It is refreshing for a hot day. The Chilean empanada is slightly different from the Argentinean, it is filled with onion, raisin, olive and eggs on top of the potato and meat and here they called in Empanada de pino. 

Chilean produces some excellent wine, famous for its Merlot. I had to go for a wine tour to find out more. It was an expensive tour with only one visit to a vineyard and the winery. The Concha Y Toro is 45 minutes away from the city, we were explained the type of grapes planted in the vineyard and visited the underground wine cellar. We had a glass of white and red wine for tasting. End of the day we were given the wine glass as a souvenir  The visit was too commercialize, lots of people and we were rush by the guide the entire time and the wine in the winery was not much cheaper than outside. I would not recommend anyone to take this excursion.

With my host, I joined him for the weekly Couchsurfing Salsa meet up, we had lots of fun salsa the whole night. 


Bus from Santiago de Chile to Valparaiso – P4000

Wine tour  - P27,000

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mendoza, Argentina 30 Dec 2011-2 Jan 2012

Mendoza is 2.5 hours from San Juan. Two of the main industries of Mendoza area are olive oil production and wine.  The city is a frequent stopover for climbers on their way to Aconcagua (the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere) and for adventure travellers interested in mountaineering, hiking, horseback riding, rafting, and other sports. In the winter, skiers come to the city for its easy access to the Andes.
We were welcomed by Tachi’s family. We will be celebrating New Year with them and some of their friends.  They have a big house with a garden at the back and a cat. :-) The weather in Mendoza is hot and dry. We didn’t do much on the 30th Dec, only visited Tachi’s sister house at night. In Argentina, Christmas and New Year are celebrated with the family. Most of the clubs are closed on the New Year eve. So don’t think of having a blast in Argentina!

On the New Year eve, is another day of doing nothing. As their house is far away from the center, I could not go anywhere. So I spent my time compiling a year end video and watched a movie. In the evening, we started to prepare for dinner, we will be making Asado which means BBQ. The meat in Argentina is the best in the world. What can be better than Asado for New Year eve! We had beef, ribs and sausage BBQ, empanadas, melon with ham, salad and lots of wine and champagne. Dinner started around 10pm and lasted thru midnight where everyone cheers for the New Year 2012. Fireworks lights up the sky and break the silence of the night. We continued to have our dessert and more drink in the garden till late.

On the first day 2012, Juan went back to San Juan, we had to say good bye. :-( It has been an amazing week celebrating Christmas and New Year together. I moved to the hostel in the center so I could walk around and see a bit of the city. I checked into this hostel just 50m from the Plaza Independencia. The hostel was quiet, think it was the effect of too much drinking and partying the night before. I heard from some of the travelers that nothing was open on the New Year Eve, they have no place to party except in the Hostel. Phew! I was glad and lucky to be with a family. It was even hard to find a place to eat on the 1 Jan. The town is dead, you can dance or sleep on the road, no cars will hit you. I got my trip to High Mountain booked for the 2 Jan and my bus ticket to Santiago booked for the night as well.

High Mountain excursion passes by an incredible landscape along the Mendoza River, as far as border with Chile. The first stop was at the Potresillos dam, a quick stop for photo. A couple of other stops later we reached the Inca Bridge. The Las Cuevas River has carved the mountain forming a natural bridge above it. Why is it called the Inca Bridge? Inca people used to cross this bridge on their path. :-) An old Hot Spring Hotel which was destroyed sitting next to the bridge used to provide free 30mins bath for all tourist but today, the access to the bridge is prohibited, due to some scientist study that believe the bridge is collapsing. So tourists are not allowed to cross but the local still use it to access the hot spring! :-(

We reached the final destination which is the Aconcagua Park. The mountain was covered with snow. From the park is the starting point to hike the 6,962m high mountain, the highest in America. It is considered one of the easier climb of the Seven Summits from technicality perspective because the northern route does not absolutely require ropes, axes, and pins. But I am not going to climb this mountain, we made a 2 hours trek in the park till the hanging bridge. There park was cover with colorful flowers. We had the spectacular view of Mount Aconcagua from all corners. I took pictures after pictures. Breathtaking! :-(
Back to the hostel around 7pm, I got freshen up to catch the 7 hours bus to Santiago de Chile. :-( 

Tachi’s house
Campo Base Hostel– A45 for 9 in a share room with air condition, breakfast and Wifi

Taxi from Terminal to Tachi’s house – A25
Bus from Mendoza to Santiago de Chile – A190
Taxi from Hostel to Terminal – A10

High Mountain Excursion – A190

Saturday, January 7, 2012

San Juan, Valle de la Luna and Talampaya Park, Argentina 22-30 Dec 2011

A bit about San Juan, San Juan was severely damaged by a powerful earthquake in 1944. It killed 10,000 people and left half the town's population homeless. After the disaster of 1944, the city was reconstructed on concentric boulevards, with straight, well-lit, tree-lined avenues and modern housing. It has mostly lost its colonial aspect, but retains an open, sunny Mediterranean look. Today it is a modern city with wide streets and well drawn avenues with wide sidewalks and vegetation of different species of trees irrigated by canals, from which it derives its nickname oasis town.

It has been 6 months that we have last met in Mexico, Juan was travelling in Mexico and Elena and I met him while travelling from San Cristobal to Palenque. We were then stuck together for the rest of our trips. Ohh..We also met Robin the Dutch hunk at Palenque and we spent great time together at Tulum and Cancun. Juan invited us to his house for Christmas, Elena made it eventually but Robin didn’t make it. So the 4 musketeers became 3. I was really looking forward to be in San Juan. I was looking forward for the reunion and to speak to Juan in Spanish. J

We arrived 8 plus in the morning and Juan picked us up. Juan has a beautiful apartment with patio at the back.  It was 10 minutes walk from the terminal and 20 minutes from town. As Juan needs to work the last day of 2011, Elena and I had a quick stroll in town and found out that everything close at 12:30noon. All shops open from 8am to 12:30noon and reopen from 5:30pm to 9:30pm. We went to the tourist information to pick up a map and info about what to do in San Juan then in the afternoon, the town is dead, nothing is open and no one was on the street. It comes alive after 6pm when the shops are reopened. The sun set around 9pm here in summer so people have time to go out. With this hot weather, the best thing to do in the afternoon is stay in the house, have a siesta or soaks in a swimming pool. I thought I could speak Spanish pretty well and understand them until I met Juan, suddenly it seems like I didn’t know anything, I could hardly understand him. :-( I was disappointed and Juan too, so Elena again needs to be our interpreter. It is the way Argentinean speaks with their slang and kind of singing that makes it difficult for me to understand, especially in San Juan they sing more…:-)

On the 23rd Dec, Juan is off work till after New Year. Today, we went wine tasting. J San Juan is surrounded with grape farms of over 116,000 acres, the second largest producer in Argentina and Argentina wine industry is the fifth largest producer of wine in the world. We visited 2 vineries (Bodega in Spanish) and a Champaign bodega. They were all free! We were explained the method of how vine is process from harvesting to bottled. We could not see the process because it is not harvesting season yet. The harvesting season is in March and April. We were able to taste the vine each bodega produced. Some were good some was just ok. I especially like the dessert wine which was sweet. End of the day we bought 2 bottle of wine and 2 bottle of Champaign, all for less than $40. They are really cheap as compared to Malaysia and Singapore, price is around $5 for a bottle of wine and $10 for a bottle of Champaign. How can we not drink wine every day? :-)
On the 24th Dec, we went to visit the nearby Ullum Dam located 18km from the city. Since very little rain falls in the region, the San Juan River has been dammed to provide a regular source of water to the city. The resulting reservoir is Quebrada de Ullum Dam. The dam also provides electrical power to the region.
We celebrated Christmas Eve with Juan’s family. Here in Argentina, dinner starts only after 10pm. Sleep not earlier than 1am. It was hard for me to adjust and my body was obviously suffering from this changed of eating habit. Juan’s mother and aunt prepared a lot of food for dinner, we had our Christmas dinner in the garden of their house. The weather was cold at night. Even though there was no snow we were all wearing our jacket. We had empanada, apple and nuts salad, beef, rolls, eggs salad, dulce leche cake, wines and champaign. It was my first time tasting a cake that was made with content of meat, it tasted salty. I find it weird. J At midnight, fireworks light up the sky, after dinner we left for party at a club. There were 2 bands playing that night but both are playing cumbia music.  We lasted till 6am in the morning, I was physically there but mentally asleep by then. :-)

We only slept for 4 hours because we had to leave at 11am for a 3D2N trip to Ischigualasto or Valle de la Luna and Talampaya Park. Juan’s friend Natali proposed to drive her car, it was 3 hours drive from San Juan to Valle Fertil, a small town closest to the park with accommodation. I slept a bit on the way but still exhausted, we arrived around 2:30pm, found a place to have lunch and then dive into our bed for a 3 hours siesta. :-) After a good recovery, we finally have energy to enjoy the town. We went to the nearby dam for a short walk and enjoy some Mate by the lake.

Valle Pintado

On the 26th Dec, we visited both Valle de la Luna and Talampaya Park. It was about 1 hour drive from Valle Fertil to Valle de la Luna. At Valle de la Luna, there are magnificent stone formation carved by wind and erosion of water from thousands of years. The park circuit was around 40km, we could drive our car into the circuit, and it took around 3 hours. We have a guide at each stop who gave us explanation of the formation. First stop was The Worm formation, second stop was the Valle Pintado where the valley was formed by layer of rocks and sandy clay in different colors. Next was The Sphinx formation and field of balls. After is the magnificent Submarine formation and finally the giant mushroom.

We went on to Talampaya Park which was another 1.5 hours drive from Valle de la Luna. At Talampaya, we had to take the park transport. It was more expensive as compared to Valle de la Luna but it was way more beautiful and magnificent. We paid for the cheapest transport with the combi. There were just 4 of us so we had the park all for ourselves. At the entrance of the park, there was a Dinosaurs park, this is because dinosaurs lived here millions of years ago, and fossils have been found here. In the park, there were rock formations with walls up to 143 meters high at one point, there was a place which was named The Gothic Cathedral. Really stunning! There were also remains of indigenous peoples' settlements, such as the petro glyphs of the Puerta del Cañón and a beautiful botanical garden. Last stop was the rock formation of the Monk.

We spent one more night at Valle Fertil and drove back on the 27th Dec. Elena left on the 28th Dec. Left just Juan and me, as we could not communicate well in Spanish, he either use Google Translate or bring me to his friends who can speak a bit of English. But Juan is a good actor, I was always surprised by his sudden act from certain scene in a movie. He is the most considerate guy I ever met. :-)

We had to make plans for New Year, first he wanted to bring me to Rodeo, a place with lake and beach but we couldn’t get our transport there, everything was fully booked. Then I suggested going Mendoza, and he found his friend to host us in Mendoza. That was just perfect! On the 30th Dec, we took a bus to Mendoza, it was hard for me to leave but luckily Juan was coming with me.
Juan’s house
Fatme Hostel in Valle Fertil – A165 for quad share room with attached toilet

Petrol for trip to Valle Fertil, Valle de la Luna and Tulampaya – A94
Bus from San Juan to Mendoza – A60
Bus from Mendoza to Santiago de Chile -A190

Valle de la Luna Park - A70
Tulampaya Park Entrance fee – A40
Tulampaya Park Canon  Tour with combi – A95

Monday, January 2, 2012

Cordoba, Argentina 19-21 Dec 2011

The bus from Salta took 13 hours instead of 12. I called my host’s sister from the bus station and she was able to wait for me at her house. The taxi I took drop me off 2 block away from the actual location, what an idiot! My host – Cristian has a nice apartment with 2 bedrooms, his sister Mechi welcome me to their house. The heat outside was unbearable, I took a shower and a bit of rest. In the afternoon, Mechi brought me to a nearby shopping mall. Lots of Christmas decoration and many people shopping in the mall. I was enjoying the air conditioning more than shopping. At night, Cristian brought me to his girlfriend’s house to celebrate her Diploma graduation. Together with her family and friends, we had a great night eating and chatting.
I was looking forward for today because Elena arrived from France. We were travelling together in Mexico and Cuba. She is now here for Christmas holiday and we will visit Juan in San Juan together. It felt like just last week we have parted. :-) I can’t believe we are here in Argentina together!

Today we spent our time visiting the town of Cordoba, it was 43°c outside, hot and dry! Back home we have only 35°c with humidity. Elena came from France in the winter, she was the happiest gal in town, loving the sun and the heat, I was staying in the shade all the time. We spent the day catching up and reminding ourselves of the beautiful memories in Mexico and Cuba. We also bought our bus ticket to San Juan, we leave the next day at night to escape from this hot city.
Cordoba was the 2nd biggest town in Argentina, with Christmas around the corner, Everyone is  in town, shopping. We noticed that the town was very dirty, my host told me that it was because the garbage and cleaning people were on strike so no one was cleaning the street. :-( We had a bit of shopping too and visited a few Iglesias. We went to the nearby park hopefully to find a shady place to rest and chill unfortunately there weren’t enough big trees in the park. The heat was really killing us, we stop for drink every few kilometers.

Overall, we didn’t enjoy ourselves, it was the heat that spoilt our time in Cordoba.

Taxi from Terminal to CS House – A19
Bus from Cordoba to San Juan – A215


Half way Round The World 2011