It has taken me almost six months to be able to write this, partly because I cannot physically put into words what the trip meant to me and in a way writing this officially ends the best year of my life (I am also guilty of being v lazy). But here I want to reflect on what I learnt from travelling solo for one year and a few of my favourite photographic memories and maybe even inspire one or two of you to book that scary one way flight into the unknown!
Trying to settle back into ‘normal life’ after 12 months on the road has been challenging to say the least. Living in a travel bubble for one year completely separated from reality changes your priorities and your entire perspective on life. This bubble is both uncomfortable, scary, exciting and dangerously addictive. Travelling solo as a female around Latin America is definitely a challenge but is one of the most liberating and exhilarating things I have ever done. Anyone nervous especially girls just do it. I think everyone should experience solo travel at least once in their life.
I have gotten better at embracing the here and now even if it is a two hour commute on a bicycle to Tallaght. I am a sucker for a challenge. This commute often feels like backpacking (or cycling Bolivia’s death road aka the Greenhills road in Walksintown)!
Since starting I have had 4 punctures, been hit by a car (luckily I was okay the woman thought I was a wheely bin), ended up hitch hiking to a presentation (that’s a v long story), cried for an entire hour en route home pretty convinced I had frost bite (I did not!!), almost got blown away during multiple storms. Admittedly it is usually quite bleak but there is the rare day where the wind is behind my back, sun is shining and I am listening to the Beach Boys and I feel invincible. The quick morale of the story, cycling in Dublin is a joke but better than public transport!! Our bodies can do so much more than we give them credit for.
During my trip someone once told me I was a magnet for problems and disasters. Maybe that is true these disasters have subsequently followed me to Dublin and most likely will follow me wherever I end up next. Only last week I set my hair on fire in a restaurant in Berlin while roller blading a Half Marathon!!!!! Sometimes you might feel like crying and whenever you do try your best to laugh! No joke, literally everyday of the trip there was some kind of a disaster in store both major and minor. I look back now and can honestly smile about them all.
I find it difficult to describe how I feel after the year away but it is without a doubt an emotional roller coaster consisting of indescribable joy, loneliness, guilt, sadness, isolation and fear. A year of camping, hitchhiking, sleeping on mountains, caves and couchsurfing went by in the flash of an eye. I was broke, homeless, lost, robbed, held up at knife point and violently sick (on numerous occasions). You do stupid things and all rationale goes out the window. A perfect example of this is me buying a motorbike in Brazil with the plan of biking through the Amazon into Colombia?! In my defense I had been on a bus for almost 3 days so I was little delirious (as opposed to normal!). It is still there in case anyone reading this in headed to Brazil!?
Just a few of my photographic highlights
Some parting advice;
Don’t always take the easy option get on that bike, book that flight, step into the unknown and who knows what might happen you may even be lucky enough to pick up a hot German in the airport. Life can pass us by in the blink of an eye so speak to that stranger, be open-minded and curious. Everyone has an untold story waiting to be heard.
I completely get that hitchhiking, couch surfing and sleeping in tents isn’t everyone’s gig but it’s always good to put yourself out of your comfort zone every now and again (no need to be as extreme as me aka 8 weeks straight in a tent). The experiences you will have will be authentic, exciting and unforgettable. You think you can’t do it but you absolutely can!
Money seriously comes and goes and ultimately can be replaced. Some of my happiest memories are when I didn’t have any. Material things are so un-important but memories will last forever. I know its v cheesy but it’s true. I became so much better at accpeting at dealing with things that got lost, broken and robbed and believe me there were a record amount of things.
The best thing I did on the trip? becoming fluent in Spanish. I will never forget Christmas was spent with a group of Chilanos who hadn’t a word of English and after everyone pissing themselves at my Spanish attempts I persevered and months later I landed myself a job in a hostel in Cusco and was able to lap away to every randomer who came through the doors in Spanish. Progress!! It’s hard work at the beginning but just power through it is so so worth it. The whole point about travelling is obviously seeing amazing places but for me it is more about connecting with the people. Doing both is a glorious combo.
Life is a series of peaks and valleys and just like traveling it is not always going to be Instagram perfect but wherever you are living learn to live in the moment is the best thing we can do. No matter how grim, how cold, how tired or how fed up you are there is always a solution, put a smile on your face and power through. Even a 25 hour bus can have its up sides! Some of my most challenging moments of the trip are now my best stories and fondest memories but at the time I clearly remember thinking I had hit rock bottom (sleeping in a cave alone is perfect example of this).
A final thank you to all of the amazing people I met on the trip, the strangers who took me in, fed me, the couch surfing community and those who picked me up off the sides of the street. I am also so grateful to everyone who spared the time to read about some of my trip.Your comments and messages meant the world to me.
This quote perfectly summarises what travelling means to me
”Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” Anthony Bourdain
Day 3 of Carnival and feeling worse for wear myself and Mati shared a kg of grapes and a beer for breakie and went for mosie around the gorgeous markets selling fresh fruit/veg and local crafts.
Lunch back in the hostel was sopa de mani (peanut soup). It’s amazing and really traditional in Northern Argentina and more so in Bolivia. It’s blended peanuts that are boiled in water for 3 hours (apparently this is important otherwise you explode) , fried potatoes, boiled chicken and parsley. It’s absolutely delish and a perfect hangover cure. After lunch we packed up and headed to Purmamarca. It is a tiny village based in a valley. It has a backdrop of the most amazing mountains and is home to the famous rainbow mountain. When we arrived the weather was pretty mouldy. We were freezing from the motor bike ride so cracked open a bottle of red and camped under a tree listening to the amazing local live music. We hit up some of the local bars afterwards for more live music.
I was telling Mati a story about Lourenso a guy I was travelling with and how his valuables bag got robbed on a bus in Guatemala with camera, money, laptop, passport the complete works as he was sleeping. As I finished telling the story I realized my bag containing all of the above was missing in action. I quickly retraced my steps and ran back to a bar we had been in before and amazingly the bag was just sitting there in the middle of a group of Argentinian men singing their hearts out. A momentary manic.
We decided to call it a night grab some dinner and one last bottle of Argentinian wine as I had to catch my bus to San Pedro in Chile at 3.40am! My last meal was Churri Pan (chorizo bread) and alfajores (chocolate and dulce the leche cake). This are yummy and absolutely everywhere in Argentina. We ended up pitching our tent at the ‘bus stop’. The bus woman told me just to stand on the side of the road outside a hotel (seemed a bit odd but Mati assured me it was completely normal). We even managed to get some shut-eye before the bus. Obviously I forget to set an alarm but luckily naturally woke up at about 3.15 am. There was no need to worry as there was no sign of the bus or people (expect a few drunks) for hours. So with it almost hitting 6 am I was loosing all hope of seeing a bus. It was a little bit like waiting for Godo (that horrific play I did for the LC which Una somehow loves). It’s basically two men just waiting for nothing. We took it in turns to keep an eye out for the bus while the other slept. I left my humungous backpack on the road to give the bus man a heads up I was here.
After 3 long hours of waiting we saw the bus!!! I thought I was seeing things but I immediately ran onto the road waving my mattress in the air! And just like that the bus flew past me. I actually started laughing because I couldn’t believe it had actually come, let alone left. I was so in shock and had to confirm that a bus actually passed. I thought I was loosing my mind. Obviously we copped on eventually and Mati quickly loaded me onto his bike and we sped after the bus it was actually v exciting (albeit baltic) speeding up the mountains in the middle of the night. When we eventually caught up with the bus we drove beside it screaming, honking the horn and me waving my arms until it stopped. The bus man was actually cross with me!! I didn’t even get into it and just scrambled onto the bus and took the last seat beside a thundering snoring man! Just what the doctor ordered about 4 sleepless nights. For €120 a fairly shocking service and without the luxury of a motorbike I would have missed it.
So in total I spend 6 weeks in Argentina and absolutely loved it. It’s absolutely huge and I definitely underestimated the distances. Everywhere is basically at least a 1000 km away, a 20 hour bus ride or a lot longer if hitch hiking. I had the most amazing last week with Mati and the north of Argentina was definitely one of my highlights. Coach surfing has really opened my eyes and seeing these places through the eyes of the locals is the best (also helped along by ridely around on a BMW motorbike). Argentina’s food was a step up from Chile that’s for sure. My highlight still remains the Cordero I tasted on new year’s day in Ushuaia, a taste I will never forget. The people have been absolutely amazing and have gotten me out of more than one sticky situations. I have also never met a nation more obsessed with crocs. Even the most glam are wearing them (O you’d be in your ellers!).
I arrived in San Pedro de Atacama (Northern Chile) after a turbulent exit from Argentina. San Pedro is the worlds driest desert and the town itself is v cute and is based around a dirt road. It mainly evolves around tourism with an abundance of tourist offices all selling the same thing which is a bit over the top. I successfully found a really nice camp site near the town. My tent has been successfully repaired (for now) thanks Mati. I had my first night’s proper sleep in the last 5 days absolute bliss.
The next morning, I decided to rent a bike to visit some of the nearby deserts. I set off early to avoid the insanely hot temperatures. My first stop was Valley de la Meurte. I managed to lose my water bottle en route to the desert so really was in bits… the heat here is really next level. The view points were sensational (including my pee stop). I always prefer a nice view when peeing as opposed to a smelly urinal. It was incredible my pee dried up insanely from the heat! Not a trace of evidence left behind ideal.
Afterwards I cycled to Valley de la Luna which is the most famous place in San Pedro to watch the sun set. When I arrived the park warden said that the park was closed to all cyclists because the weather conditions were too severe (even know the sun was belting ?). The only people allowed in were tour buses or cars. I had already booked my trip to Bolivia the following day was v v disappointed. I saw one lad standing on his own with a car and asked him if he minded if I tagged along. V reluctant he consulted with his girlfriend and amazingly they let me come. Sun set was one of the nicest I have every seen. When returning to the bike shop I realised I had lost the bike lock somewhere between the valley and the shop. There was a hefty fine involved if I didn’t find it. I figured it might be in the Brazilians boot I vaguely remembered them saying what hotel they were staying in. I eventually found the jeep and miraculously was able to climb into the boot and lock and key were there. I had a few funny looks from passer bys who thought I was trying to rob the jeep.
I was up at 6am the next morning for the 3 day trip through the Bolivian wilderness. 6 of us were packed into a 4 x 4 jeep and I was bundled into the back with the grumpiest Chinese guy, Will. There was 3 other Chilanos and a hilarious Japanese guy so I was happy out. I was essentially was sitting on Will for the entire 3 days as the jeep was packed to the brim. Shame he wasn’t a looker!
Scenery was spectacular and the jeep stopped regularly for photo opportunities. I was on the cusp of pucking for the entire bumpy journey but thankfully managed to hold it in. One of our stops was to a geyser which is a hot spring with boiling water which sends columns of steam upwards. Pretty cool as I’d never seen one before but they smell of farts because of all the sulfur. This was a short and smelly visit.
Bolivian wine hasn’t a patch on Chile or Argentina but I’m not one to refuse wine so myself and Now (the Japanese chap) were the only takers on our first night. Happy days. Our jeep all shared a dorm. Will, the grumpy Chinese guy snored the roof down all night (up there with the top 3 snorers I have ever encountered). One of the Chilano guys wasn’t far behind him and they eloquently synchronized their snoring for the entire night. In fairness to the Chilano is had some useless contraption on his noise to try and help the situation. One of the Chilain women started screaming at Will in the middle of the night to shut him up but hilariously this made him snore even louder. I had my music playing so loud to try to drown him out which caused the most horrific migraine (could have been the vino +/- the altitude either or a combo). Desperate for some sleep I sleep on the kitchen floor for the rest of the night in my sleeping bag as far away from Will as possible.
About an hour later I woke up violently ill. I recognized it from Everest as altitude sickness. We were at 4,300 m high without acclimatizing and it was really difficult to catch your breath. Now gave me some diamox (for altitude sickness), a few painkillers and a dioralyate and I was right as rain! At this stage my eyes were in a bad way from the infection from Carnival. The skin around them got really hard which made it painful to blink with the left eye severely infected. Once back in civilization they will need an NCT. Trying to make small talk with Will at breakie I asked him if he slept well and hilariously he said he didn’t sleep a wink! Would you be able for it…….
Day 2 and world war 2 erupted in the car. I was hating on Will at this stage and the close proximity to him was rough. The heat really was unbearable ( Lucie you were right). The angry Chilain woman was going ninty because she was ‘cold’ and wouldn’t let me or Will open our windows. As a very reasonable alternative I offered her my ‘questionably clean jacket’. She looked at me in disgust and refused. Anyway the minor issues in the car were all forgotten about with the amazing views of the day. On our second night I asked to pitch my tent in the back in an attempt to get away from Will but they found a room for me and angry Chilain woman to share so we both slept like babas.
Our final day of the trip was incredible and finished in Uyuni, famous for the Salt Flats (the largest in the world). It started off with a 4.30 am wake up call. We all crawled into the jeep in the freezing cold. At this time of the year its wet season so the entire salt flats are covered in water which creates amazing reflections. For most of the year it’s completely dry. The jeep ended up driving through the really deep water for sunrise. It was incredible albeit freezing at some points we were almost knee-deep in water. After taking some photos we drove to the salt hotel for a much-needed breakie stop.
The day finished off nicely with me catching some much-needed shut eye on an abandoned train. A perfect finish to a fab few days. The trip was spectacular and scenery was stunning. I’ve even been offered accommodation in China so who knows maybe me and Will could hook up down the line despite our rough start. Excited for what Bolivia has in store.
The W trek in Torres Del Paine National Park is kind of like Peru’s equivalent of Machu Pichu and the main reason people come to Puerto Natales. It is almost impossible to get a booking for the trek because it has become so popular. People are paying hundreds to thousands to do this trek as part of a tour. It was something I really wanted to do but resided to the fact that it was fully booked and I would most like just be able to do a day hike (as opposed to a 4 day trek) not willing to pay mega books. Luckily the beauty of travelling solo it’s easier to find last-minute deals and I was lucky enough to find a spot camping! Delira I started my ‘preparation’ for the following day.
I was a little bit worried about doing the trek because I haven’t had a proper nights sleep in 5 days. Last night was no exception. While shivering in the crappy tent I realized I had lost my phone. I tried to re trace my steps and realized I last had it at the supermarket. At 2 am in the morning I decided the best option was to run to the supermarket in the hope of finding it. Amazingly the phone was just sitting on a bench. This is the same phone that I lost in Times Square in New York 3 years ago and subsequently got delivered to Temple Street. Myself and the poor phone have been around the block. V v lucky. In fairness the 30 minute run warmed me up so I wasn’t complaining and I was just so grateful to have my phone. When I eventually got back to the hostel my tent had blown away so I had to try to pitch it again in the darkness and rain not ideal. I can’t even explain how strong the winds are in Patagonia.
At this stage it was almost time to get up for the 6 am bus to Torres Del Paine. A rough start to some tough days ahead. I genuinely can’t remember being this tired. On the boat over to the national park I was trying to see if I could suss out any potential mates or solo travelers to share a tent with. When your this cold all shame goes out the window and I was genuinely serious. This was proving difficult with lots of jolly couples. There was one German lad who once again was having none of me. It look liked I would be flying solo in my sad excuse of a tent! My first day I pitched the tent in Paine Grande (with the help of a Swiss couple). I did a 9 hour round trip to Glacier Grey and Lago Grey. They were beautiful. Weather in Patgonia is so unpredictable and changes all of the time. It’s renowned for it’s incredibly vicious winds which I was experiencing first hand. I got stuck in torrential rain and got soaked. The rest of the day was fairly grim as I was absolutely frozen. Keeping my head down to try to avoid the icy winds and rain I ended up falling over a tree. I did something to my thigh nothing major but walking was even more of a challenge.
I eventually managed to crawl back into the camp for ‘dinner’. Because I got a last-minute deal for the trek I was slightly un-organised ( wouldn’t be like me). Everyone around me had hot stoves, gas cookers, the complete works and steaming food. I on the other hand had just brought some left over rice from the night before’s dinner. What I hadn’t planned was the fact I had no cutlery or a bowl so once again sitting there in wet clothes eating cold rice with my hands. Quite a grim image. This trek is un doubatably harder on your own because you have to carry absolutely everything yourself from tent to food to cooking equipment so mates are advisable for this trek! Things started to pick up from here. I got chatting to a Chilain guy who is actually a guide so he took pity on me and gave me thermals for the night and some hot water. Life saving. The next morning after a sleepless night breakfast was oats, cold water, peanuts, raisins and dule de leche. It was delish except for the chill factor. I had to make breekie in a plastic bag *due to lack of bowel (I found a spoon in the bathroom so happy days).
2nd day trekking was gorgeous with all the elements testing us sun, wind, rain and snow. Another 8 hour round trip I rushed home to catch the last boat out Paine Grande delira to say good bye to the windy campsite.
My new mate Fabian had a car so I was so lucky after the boat he took me for the most amazing drive around the national park that evening (instead of paying for the expensive bus). Afterwards we cooked dinner together in the boot of his car; pasta with tomato and tuna never tasted so good. I was in charge of the booze so made mulled wine (essentially just hot wine with some orange yum). Afterwards I pitched my tent in the darkness with once again the help of some locals with beautiful views of the following mornings challenge.That night it was less windy and although still freezing I managed to get a little bit of shut-eye.
Day 3 I trekked to the infamous Torres Del Paine. At this stage I had run out of oats so breakie consisted of dulce de leche, milk powder and peanuts. The trek was tough enough but the weather was gorgeous so despite feeling absolutely nackered I really enjoyed it. I spent about an hour at the top. It was glorious. I have to say I underestimated the W trek. The trekking itself is fine but the days are quite long and on empty stomachs, really tough weather conditions and carrying all your accommodation makes for a great challenge in a spectacular setting. There were people doing 8 day treks in the park which personally I think would be too much for me. I eventually made it back to the hostel at about 11pm. It was fully booked so I had to resort to pitching the tent once again ( a professional at this stage). One of the guys gave me his sleeping bag that night and it made such a difference I slept like a baba.
I absolutely loved Refugio Hosken in Puerto Natales it had such a lovely family atmosphere a perfect place to spend Christmas. Everyone there was from Chile so it was perfect for practicing my Spanish too. They were all big into cooking are were constantly baking bread and cakes. I was in my element. A place you could easily get stuck in. Christmas isn’t as big a deal as at home with virtually no build up or anticipation. They celebrate with a big meal on the 24th with very little happening on the 25th. Christmas this year was always going to be different but it was a sad one this year. Mam rang me on Christmas eve to say our dog Benjy had suddenly died. We had him for 13 amazing years and it was so tough being so far away from home and not being able to give him a hug ( Ben is the only once allowed to hug me). This was the first time I was grateful for the tent as I was about to take some time to myself. I cried for the whole day even in the supermarket. A stranger kindly gave me their sunglasses to cover up my mess of a face in the supermarket. I pretended I was a celebrity. I will never forget Ben and how much happiness he brought us all.
Everyone in the hostel were really kind to me and we all chipped in to make dinner for 20 people that night. The distraction was the best thing I could have asked for. There was no mention of a turkey or ham and menu for the night was boiled sausies, rice and salads and of course mayonnaise. I have never met a nation more obsessed with mayonnaise. In fairness the mayonnaise was homemade. Christmas day was v chilled with more boiled sausies, eggs and rice on the menu for lunch. I spent the day learning guitar drinking vino and eating homemade cake. I couldn’t have asked for nicer people and it was definitely a memorable Christmas.
So with my friend Martha leaving Porto Natales I had to return the tent. As an early Christmas Present to myself I decided to treat myself to a brand new tent, inflatable mattress and extra hot sleeping bag. Absolutely delira with my new purchase I set up my new house and had one of the best sleeps since coming to Chile. Obviously I didn’t even consider the extra couple of kg of weight. The usual impulsive Ró go the better of me (I know Lucie you warned me).
Leaving beautiful Puerto Natales to try out my new ‘house’ in Ushuaia.
This week I made my way down further south and ended up in Cochrane. It’s a really nice little village surrounded by snow-capped mountains. On the carratera austral there are no hostels so the only option is to camp or stay in expensive hospidaje, which are shared accommodation in a family’s house. In Cochrane, the woman of the house was a bit of a grinch. I asked for some sugar to try and improve my daily breakfast of gruel (porridge with water) and was blatantly refused. There were killings when I burnt one of her pots with my porridge and the second with my rice. My current roomies are two 80 year old Chilain women (god only know they are in this place or me for that matter!). I’m really looking forward to a bit more civilization in the next week in ‘normal’ hostels.
In an attempt to get away from the grumpy woman I decided to explore Cochrane’s Parc Tampoca, a huge national park only a 4 km walk away. There are multiple routes in the park but I opted for the easy 4 hour trail still bruised and sore from the night on the mountain. I wanted something easy-going. Once again I had the park to myself. The stunning 4 hour trail turned into 11 hours of desperate struggle trying to get off the mountain range. I mixed up the routes and somehow ended up on the 4 day trek trial. Horrifically lost in stunning rocky mountain ranges with huge lakes and rivers was great at the beginning but soon lost its novelty. Energy levels were quickly dwindling. With the sunset fast approaching I was getting worried. I sat down ate the last of my orea chocolate and stale bread I thought I might be a bit more rational after this. I genuinely was more frightened on this mountain because I was completely isolated, I only had a thin rain coat and no food. I was also planning on how to defend myself against pumas in the middle of the night (apparently they are famous in this particular national park). There are about 7 different routes in this park divided by lakes and rivers. I somehow ended up on the completely wrong side. It’s not high season yet so the trails aren’t that well paved so it’s easy to get lost. I was almost coming to terms with the fact that I’d have to spend another night on a mountain (I’m becoming a seasoned pro at this stage). I climbed for about an hour to get to a view point to try and see how to cross the river and eventually stumbled across a bridge and got onto a trial which led me back. The park ranger had started to look for me so it all ended well thank god. Myself and Patagonian mountains have had a rocky start (if you will pardon the pun). Myself and the grumpy woman were both delira to say our goodbyes the following morning. I robbed a few teabags for the road and made my way towards Tortel.
Tortel is a tiny village with a population of only 600 people. The entire village is built completely on stilts. It’s beautiful but probably one of the most remote places in Chile. You can’t even buy an egg in this place so the prospect of any fruit or vegetables was hopeless. Their diet consists mainly of bread and some industrial plastic cheese. We were kicked off the bus into a raging blizzard. I spend over 2 hours in the rain looking for the ferry man (apparently he owns the ‘supermarket’ too). The ferry company would only accept cash and obviously there in no bank in Tortel so luckily I had enough for the ferry but not enough left to buy food for the next two days. For breakfast I made my usual concoction pasta, tuna and mayonnaise. With no money for food for the day I transported the remainders of the pasta in a dirty cereal box I found in the bin and few loose plastic bags. Later that day I ended up eating the pasta with my hands sharing it with another homeless Australian man I picked up wandering the streets. It’s moments like this and you genuinely feel like a wild beast ( I’ve started to resemble too). Long gone are my days of dining in Michelin star restaurants.
Drenched and absolutely frozen I ended up at Casa Maria. Maria was a different specimen altogether. She had no visible teeth and was missing a significant amount of her fingernails. She abruptly let me in insisting I paid up front. Maria wouldn’t give you a crumb off her shoe. Thankfully I met some gas people in Maria’s and we drank carton’s of wine and sang Elton John ballads for the night. The 3 guys I met had been stuck in Tortel for 4 days and were slowly loosing their minds in Casa Maria. The ferry only leaves once per week and its really the only reason people come to Tortel. One of the germans remarked that I looked like a wild dog as I entered Maria’s Casa. He was seriously impressed with my natural formed dredlocks. This nicely coincided with someone earlier that day repeatedly calling me signor ( I am technically a Sinorita). In fairness to the lad i’m getting more masculine by the day. You don’t need a picture for this so I’ll leave it up to your imagination as to what I currently look like….
Dinner in casa Maria consisted of soup made with stale bread and garlic. This meal was complements of an eccentric Spanish Man Gregorio. Gregorio even carries his own saffron a proper gourmet. The saffron subsequently went missing that night and we’re all convinced Maria robbed it when she got wind it was worth a few dollar bills. It became quite clear nobody was getting on of this house intact. The sheets smelled of cat piss and apparently Maria never changes them even for new guests arriving. We asked was it possible to leave our bags in the house the following day as our Ferry wasn’t until 11pm. Needless to say Maria refused. So the following day I was homeless and moniless in the lashing of rain with all the backpacks. Not the most ideal set up.
All delighted we survived Tortel we boarded the 3 day ferry making our way to Porto Natales. We were allowed off the ferry in Puerto Eden for a 30 minute walking break. Myself, Martha and Hosé found a random fruit shop and stocked up on apples amazed to find fresh fruit in the Patagonian wilderness. We lost track of time and somehow managed to get lost in the smallest village you can imagine. Frantically trying to get back to the ferry we starting sprinting. We could hear the ferry’s horns ringing warning us it was leaving (we still couldn’t even see the ferry). Maria ended up slipping off the board walk. It was a horrific fall and we knew it was bad by her screaming. She ended up breaking a bone in her knee. We had to wait for paramedics to come via speed boat with morphine and all sorts of injections. 3 hours later we were all on board an angry ferry. Poor Maria was in bits with the pain and had to camp out in the children’s playroom for the duration of the trip. The ferry was great and a stunning journey through Patagonian fjords. It was also a great opp to learn some much needed Spanish. I happily ate the prison food and spotted lots of dolphins and seals en route. There was a lovely gang on board so the days flew.
After arriving in Porto Natales Gregorio decided to join me in my hostel which was less than ideal (another chronic snorer). I stayed in Refugio Hosken’s which was recommended by a friend in Valpo. A fab hostel with lots of young Chilains who cook everything from scratch. Gregorio’s snoring was driving me to drink. Desperate for some space I resorted to sleeping in a tent for the night. Martha, the girl who broke her knee on the ferry kindly lent me hers.
In other news, I ended up throwing my visa in the bin, an easy mistake to make. Anyway with a lot of my day taken up with the police station I eventually got it sorted. I couldn’t pitch up my tent until 11pm that night. A near impossible task. I soon realized I was getting nowhere and a gent from Germany pitched it for me. We figured out quickly the tent had holes in it and the sleeping bag was more of sheet. I froze my arse off in the icy tent for the first night. I was so cold I ended up going into the hostel in the middle of the night to turn on the oven to try and heat up. One of the hostel workers felt so sorry for me he let me sleep in his tent. He had the complete works inflatable mattress, fleece quilts etc. I felt like I was in the Ritz! Tomorrow’s plan of action is to try and organise a trip to go trekking in one of Patagonia’s most famous national Park’s Torres Del Paine!
I arrived in Chaiten a shadow of myself having not slept in 48 hours. There is basically nothing happening in Chaiten. It was wiped out in 2008 when a volcano erupted. Most people ended up fleeing the destroyed town. You can still see the destruction from the eruption. There is plenty to do in the surrounding area but we all settled for a day of relaxing, eating and drinking lots of cheap wine. Just what the doctor ordered after the turbulent journey.
The Carratera Austral is a motor way that was build only 28 years ago and it 1,240km long. This road is famous for it’s lack of transport, shops, petrol stations but more importantly for its stunning scenery of fjords, glaciers, steep mountains and lakes. You are warned to bring enough food, water and money when travelling as public transport is a rarity. Most locals and backpackers hitch hike and camp on the side of the road. My first experience was a 12 hour bus to Coyhaique. I ended up finding a lovely Chilain mate, Cris and wore the ears off him for the solid 12 hours. Cris is travelling home for Christmas and is taking a total of 4 days using public transport via the Carratera Austral!!
We were dropped off in the middle of Coyhaique at 1 am in the morning in the pissing rain. V grateful for the mates (we also picked up a grumpy American en route). I was happy not to be flying solo on this occasion. Trying to find accommodation was almost impossible. Absolutely every where was fully booked, closed or extortionately priced for a kip of a place. We considered camping in Cris’s 2 man tent on the street. Looking progressively worse we knocked on one last house and the grumpiest man in Chile let us in. Myself and the two random bus men squeezed into the last single bed for a cosy night. We were told we would be charged 1000$ peso’s if we used the kitchen and an additional 1000$ for the tap water. Needless to say I was on the toilet water for the night. Sick with the hunger we all shared the last of my dried oats, bleek isn’t even the word. The conservative American was less than impressed when I asked could I borrow his toothbrush (mine has been missing for a while now). We couldn’t have gotten out of there quick enough. I got the nod to Cris’s house for Christmas dinner so all in all a success!
With no other way of getting to the famous national park Cerro Castillo I set my alarm for 5 am to hitch hike 90 km south of Coyhaique. Delighted to say hasta luego to the moody American I set off excited about my first hitch hike on the Cattera Austral. Novelty obviously soon wore off as I was desperately trying to flag down a car. It can get quite bleek as car after car passes you by and you’re just stuck on a motor way. Diego, a Chilain saved the day and picked me up. He was en route to a soccer match and provided me with lots of beers during the journey. We said our good byes and he gave me a can for the road and a black bag (? Actually was life saving later that day).
You can trek for 4 days in Cerro Castillo or what most people do is a day trek up to see the glacier and the laguna which takes approx 8 hours round trip. This is what I had planned on doing……
I attempted to find a hostel to dump the bags and get trekking. Unsuccessful and struggling with the weight of the backpack I ventured inside the national park to try and rent a tent. It was soon apparent this wasn’t an option either so I made the erratic decision to continue trekking up this steep mountain. I underestimated the trek and the weight of all my stuff. All of my backpacks and food weighed over 30kg. I had done a huge food shop the day before as it was the only supermarket for the next few hundred miles. Needless to say, I went a bit over board and bought 1 kg of oats, rice, pasta, bottles of oil, shampoo, conditioner, wine, beer the complete works. Little did I know I would be carting them up to the top of a glacier. The steep incline was absolute torture with weather hitting 30 degrees. I started trekking at 12.30pm so I was comforted by the fact I had 10 hours to get to the top before darkness fell. I took regular breaks but with the backpack so heavy I couldn’t take it off my back because I couldn’t get it back on with out help. I was fairly isolated for the entire trek and definitely started to question my sanity.
I met an incredible man John en route up who is currently undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy for a tumour in his lung. He decided to take a break from his treatment to visit his daughter in Chile. He was trekking up the mountain and saw how bad I was struggling that he even offered to carry one of the backpacks. An absolute superstar. Unfortunately John didn’t make it to the top but he did amazing to get so far. The heat was unbearable causing my 4 tubs of yogurts to burst and a pound of butter to melt. The melted butter dripping down my legs was the cherry on the cake. I got attacked by a swarm of bees for the majority of the hike with them constantly stinging my skin. This made things a lot more challenging.
I don’t know what came over me but I decided quite quickly I had no other choice but to sleep on the mountain as darkness was closing in. Without a tent or sleeping bag on the side of a Patagonian glacier it was probably one of my crazier ideas. It was without a doubt the most physical and psychological challenge I have ever done. People coming down from the mountain were urging me to turn back but I just couldn’t. Once I set my mind to something I have to complete it. I was comforted by the fact that it didn’t get dark until 10 pm so I had time. The entire climb was a steep uphill with the terrain really rocky and loose near the end. This was actually the scariest park because the backpack was extremely heavy I kept loosing my balance. Having reached the amazing Laguna all of my problems seemed miles away. A beer with this view made it all so worthwhile.
This moment was short-lived when I was told the camp site was another 1 1/2 hour walk away. At this stage my feet and shoulders were bleeding from the weight of the backpack and the bees. I trudged through it and arrived just before the sun was setting. To my delight there were two other men in the campsite a German and a Chilain I thought I’d hit jackpot and could have bunked in to one of their tents. Unfortunately they were having none of me despite me trying to sweeten them up with some wine and chocolate. My only option was to wear all of my clothes and sleep on the black bag I was given earlier that day by Diego.
Needless to say I didn’t sleep all night. In fairness to the German he gave me 3 shots of rum and the Chilain guy gave me 3 cookies. Having lugged up a bottle of wine the whole way I was definitely going to drink it in the hope it might warm me up a little and help me sleep through the icy night. After 2 glasses I ended up knocking it over destroying my ‘blankets’ for the night. Things were looking fairly grim at this stage so I took a few paracetamols in the hope they would get rid of my pain and help me sleep. Throughout the night I got up on the hour to do a few jumping jacks/sprints to try and keep warm and get the sensation back into my feet. In the middle of the grimest of situations I did actually appreciate how beautiful it was sleeping under the stars beside a glacier and laguna with them all the myself ( would I recommend it? probably not) but an unforgettable night nonetheless. I even watched a few episdoes of Narcos deciding I may as well make the most of having my laptop on the mountain!
The following morning I was up at 4am because it was quite clear at this stage sleep wasn’t going to be an option. I ate some stale crackers, cheese and chorizo and a beer (an Israli guy gave me this en route up). The hike down was extremely challenging with steep declines, painful body and lack of food (I ate all my snacks in the middle of the night to warm up). The weight of both backpacks kept throwing me off balance and I had no trekking poles. The bees were less of a burden this time because I wasn’t covered in butter and yogurt so I was grateful for that. Taking regular breaks I ended up falling asleep on a rock half way down the mountains which was bliss.
25 hours later I managed to get off the mountain in one piece. Extremely shook, exhausted and homeless I camped out at the bus stop to try and get out of Cerro Castillo. I had to wait 4 hours for a ride but eventually made it to Puerto Rio Tranquilo. Dinner was an exquisite concoction of pasta, mayonnaise and tuna. I will never forget my night on Cerro Castillo!
Porto Rio Tranquilo is a stunning lakeside area. It’s famous for the glaciar exploradores. Myself and two other Chilain girls headed off to explore them. It was incredible we trekked for about 2 hours to get to the glacier. We were given ice crampons and spent the next 3 hours exploring the different ice sculptures and caves. An incredible experience. I’ve never seen anything like this place. Really special.
The following morning myself and a gang of Chilains went to visit the famous marble caves. We almost got blown out it with all tours subsequently cancelled that day conditions were atrocious. Anyway delighted I managed to see the caves. Afterwards we all tried to get the sensation back into our limbs with the most expensive tea of my life €4.50!!!! (this didn’t include any milk). All in all a challenging week with lots of amazing (+traumatic memories).
I arrived at the station planning on going to Argentina. The bus man stared at me blankly as I attempted to buy a ticket with my usual Spanish spiel. Before I knew it I was on a bus (on a boat) en route to the Island of Chiloe, not Argentina. I had never even heard of Chiloe. It’s a large Island off Chile and really reminds me of Ireland with its green rolling hills and coastal towns. It’s one of the most chilled out places I’ve been to with practically no tourists here, in fact there are hardly any people here at all. Most backpackers bypass this beautiful destination because it difficult to navigate around the Island without a car. Hitchhiking is a must here!
I hoped off the island in a place called Ancud. I checked into the first hostel I could find after about 1 hour of walking in blistering heat. Excellent hostel (13 Lunas hostel, Ancud). The beds were top drawer. Ancud is famous for penguins with the Magallanes and Humbolt penguin living here. The following day I rented a bike and cycled out to Puñihuil to see them. You could take a tour bus but i’m allergic to them at this stage. I underestimated the 60km cycle. The bike was ready for the bin and the tyres were as flat as pancakes. I had a pump, but in my experience pumping wheels I generally let all the air out so opted against it. I went along with the dodgy tyres. The pain was worth it for the incredible panoramic views of the coast. When I arrived, I hoped onto a boat (the tour was Spanish speaking only) I managed to get the gist of it but was in my element just watching the penguins pottering about.
Dreading the trek home, with no restaurants en route. I stopped off at a church (the only building open) and told the priest I was hungry (tengo mucha ambray). He randomly sold me a prawn empanada and a warm/dusty beer, a beautiful combo. Now that’s the kind of church I would happily attend every Sunday. He saved me big time and the cycle home was so much more manageable!
With so much to see on the Island I decided to make tracks and took a bus to Castro. Maka, my trumpet friend put me in contact with a friend of hers who lives just outside Castro. I ended up staying with Lorena and her girlfriend Kaaje for 4 days. They live in the most idyllic place with amazing views of the island. Trying to find the house was less than idyllic. I was given the instructions to get a taxi; 4,000$ or a bus; 350$. Bus it was! The instructions were to look out for a green house made out of plastic. Quite strange but sure it’s Chile so anything goes. After hours of trying to find a house made out of green plastic I started asking randomers but to no avail. Literally drenched in sweat and getting desperate I ended up asking 5 different houses did they know Lorena showing every passer by her photo. The delirium was getting to me. Afters hours of trekking up and down the mountains with my 4 backpacks a random man pointed me in the right direction.
It turns out they live in a normal house they just have a green house (for vegetables!!!). It was such a treat having my own double bed and private bathroom and some much needed laundry! Absolute heaven.
I ventured to Chiloe National Park where I met a lovely Peruvian girl, Meriza and Swiss guy, Stefan. We were literally the only ones in the park. Crazy! Stefan was hard core and ended up sleeping on the beach (no tent /no food/no water). He ended up leaving his passport and all of his money somewhere on the beach and we went exploring for hours and we all feel asleep. We eventually made our way back and luckily Stefan’s goods intact. An awful ejet but I most likely would have done the same thing. Myself and Meriza obviously missed the last bus home but experts at this stage managed to hitchhike off a grumpy old man.
The food in Chile has been fairly bleak to say the least. I’ve been on the coast for weeks now but it’s actually really hard to find good seafood. They are big fans of deep fat frying everything and are hot dog obsessed. A specialty here is completo: A hot dog laced with mayonnaise, guac and ketchup. I haven’t actually tasted one but they look pretty violent. The three things I’m missing most are good coffee (Brian you’d be proud I’ve been drinking minging instant coffee on a daily basis), dark chocolate ( a sub average bar of chocolate here is the same price as wine, wine will win any day of the week) and cheese (the cheese here is more of a texture as opposed to a taste really awful shit). What I would give for one of Úna’s mince pies with freshly whipped cream and an Irish coffee and mulled wine.
So because the food is bad and overpriced I have been cooking most meals in the hostels. In fairness to Chile they do excellent avocados (paltas). I have them pretty much every day. To thank Lorena and Kaaje I offered to prepare a meal for them. With the days jam packed my only option was to cook the meal in the middle of the night, not a problem with my insomnia issues. The menu was Rice ( leftovers from phone recovery operation) and mango chicken (inspired by Senong) and apple crumble for dessert (rotten apples were on discount). The meal was edible helped massively by the two bottles of wine.
From Castro I took a day trip to beautiful Dalcahue. From there I hoped on a ferry to go explore some of the nearby islands. Once again completely deserted. Where are all the people? I did a stunning coastal walk which stretched for miles and I had it all to myself. I was looking forward to some seafood on the island but everywhere was closed so I settled for a stale cornetto.
Gorgeous few chilled out days in Chiloe but am looking forward to seeing some humans again. Travelling down south towards Patagonia is not straightforward, not cheap and extremely confusing. I considered getting the Navimag which is a popular ferry that takes you from Puerto Montt to Puerto Nalates in 3 nights and 4 days (covering almost 2,000 km). Its’ over 400$. I’ve opted against the Navimag and am planning on DIY (ing) it.
I left Chiloe island by taking the ferry at 3.00am (obviously I thought this was 3.00pm). This left me with plenty of time to kill. After a few too many vinos I stumbled onto the ferry. The party soon ended. The ferry itself felt like Antarctica, absolutely baltic. I forgot to wear clothes. I would have paid someone good money for their blankie. I just kept eating peanuts to try and warm up (didn’t work and now I just hate peanuts). I identified at least 10 different culprits of snorers (Snorla & Storm Cian you have serious competition). An appropriate soundtrack for a torture chamber. Absolutely abysmal. I was blaring Eminem to try and drown out the snores until my earphones also had enough and kicked the bucket (I don’t blame them). I desperately found 1 earplug on the floor which I had no choice but to use. A grim first experience on the ferry. I will be better equipped next time with surround sound, wine, food, multiple ear plugs, whiskey and more wine!
My time in Valparaiso has finally come to an end with my credit card eventually arriving in Santiago. I reluctantly left the addictive city of Valaparaiso. 2 days somehow turned into 3 amazing weeks with some special people along the way. My final days included a visit Las Docas just outside Valparaiso. Squeezed into the coolest car ever I was on the verge of pucking for the entire trip. Well worth the turbulent journey. We arrived in the afternoon and did a cool hike around the forest areas until we reached a secluded lake where we went swimming.
The beauty of hostels is you don’t know who your going to meet. So with the arrival of the eccentric character Senong (conveniently pronounced Seán). We hit it off immediately and we became instant cooking partners. He is 69 and backpacking around the world on his own. He’s very tapped but then again so am I, so we have a good giggle. After a heavy night of jazz and boozing myself and Joe polished off the last of Senong’s cheese, absolute murder scenes in the kitchen the following day. I’ll definitely miss this funny fish.
An extremely hungover and dehydrated Ró eventually managed to find Niall’s house in Santiago (after about 1 hour of knocking on the wrong street). I ended up loosing one of my runners in the metro station en route to credit card retrieval . Probably just as well my bag weights a ton. Cheers Niall for organizing the credit card. Turns out I really needed it. The following day I left my debit card in a bank machine and a legend of a man ran after me with it ( I promise Úna this is the last time) .
After a 9hr overnight bus I arrived in Pucon, a beautiful lake town with lots of hot springs, volcano’s and an abundance of national parks. I am staying in Chilli Kiwi Hostel just over looking the lake a seriously impressive view and good hostel.
A German couple in my dorm said they were taking an early bus to El Cani National Park to do a 9 hour hike (22km). I ended up third wheeling with them ( wouldn’t be like me). It was absolutely stunning. We were treated to some serious panoramic views from the top of the climb where we stopped for lunch. The lunch itself was was fairly bleek and consisted of stale bread, margarine and parsley. I was so hungry that it actually tasted fairly gourmet. We ended up picking up a beautiful Colombian Man, Juan on the way down. A gang of us finished off a hard days climbing with some well deserved Cervazas.
One sunny afternoon myself and Joe packed a picnic and an extra large bottle of wine and rented Kayaks to visit some of the many beaches around the Peninsula. This was my first time kayaking since a horrific kayaking incident in Cambodia a few years back (v long story). It goes without saying that I have learned absolutely nothing from it. We packed the kayak up with grub, camera, phones and vino. Not realising how turbulent the water was we ended up drifting into the middle of the lake and the kayak started to fill up with water from the waves. Frantically paddling, we eventually managed to find a ‘beach’ someones back garden essentially. Obviously I thought it was an appropriate time to take a boomerang (Instagram video thing for the older generations reading this). Anyway I dropped my phone into the lake. That night, phone submerged in pasta (I had no rice) we all prayed for a resurrection. It’s kind of essential having a phone here for music, google maps and contacting people etc (the general features of any phone I suppose). Despite phone incident Kayak was fab we had the lake to ourselves with magical views of the volcano and lots of hidden beaches along the way.
One of the biggest attractions in Pucon is climbing the Villarica Volcano (South America’s most active Volcano). It’s not cheap at €100 but you can’t go alone. It only erupted 2 years where the erruption exceeded the height of the volcano. There was a group from the hostel who had to turn back during the climb because the winds were too strong. They don’t take any risks and are extremely strict. You need ice crampons, gas masks and protective clothing because of the fumes from the lava. With the phone missing in action my dorm mate Philip kindly set his alarm for 5am! Philip is Brazilian and has been teaching me ‘Spanish’ for the past few days turns out he’s actually been teaching me Portuguese!!! Qué pena!
There were 12 of use signed up for the volcano trek. When we arrived at the base of the Volcano the weather was fairly grim and the guides advised us to leave it and try and again tomorrow. We all agreed and I extended by stay in Pucon by another night. All geared up and packed lunches brimming we decided to check out Huerquehue National Park to make the most of the day. I ended up with a gang who didn’t like walking so I managed to convince one of the lads, Chee to come explore further with me. We ended up horrifically lost. It was a treacherous route walking on frozen lakes, ice, snow and waterfalls. We subsequently found out that side of the park was closed off as a girl recently went missing and had to spend the night in the forest (luckily she was found the next day). Needless to say we missed the last bus home but no fear I secured us a lift home by hitch hiking off a local with my Spanish/Portuguese. Myself and Che had good craic and I definitely appreciated the company. He is an accomplished anesthetist in the states who also wants to abdomen ship on his carer and become a professional tour guide( he might need to scrub up on his mountaineering skills). Back late that night we started getting ready for round two of Volcano climb praying the weather would clear. (some poor fecker was on his third attempt of the volcano).
Some people in the group were packing obscene amounts of foods. One chap from Germany had 6 sandwiches, chocolate, Gatorade, Lucozade tablets, biscuits, nuts and dried fruit (not including his continental breakfast). He would have been well equipped to attempt the summit of Everest with all his grub. The climb itself is tough around 5 hours up and 1 down but definitely not the hardest thing I’ve done. There is an option to take a ski lift up at the beginning which cuts out 1 hour of uphill ice climbing. It costs a steep $10, 000 peso (if you’ll ptp) so I opted against it. It was only me and an Israeli lad left to tackle the Volcano. This was tough because we had to try and catch up with the rest of the group . Our pace was fast and breaks were limited we ended up catching up with the rest of group just before sumitting which was great. We were delighted after the challenge. The feeling at the top is surreal. We saw lava (which is apparently quite rare). We couldn’t have been luckier with the day we could see for miles absolutely spectacular.
Going down was the best bit. You can either ski or snowboard down (at additional cost) or slide down the volcano using a nappy. No joke you literally just slide down the side of a Volcano using a piece of plastic. It was insane you go so fast. The day ended with me badly needing to pee, unable to hold it in after 7 hours. I just went on the side of the volcano with a random woman covering me with her coat. A few unexpected skiers were treated to some nice scenery on their way down. It’s not the first and it won’t be last! Happy heads and full bellies (for some people) we all headed back to the hostel for some delicious happy hour craft beer.
The week off to another rocky start with me loosing a full bag of laundry. I amazingly managed to loose it on a bus (don’t ask). I am down to my last bra, pair of socks and a handful of clothes, not at all surprising. Things started to pick up with me getting a job in a local cafe. Payment is in coffee so it’s a sweet deal for everyone involved. The POA is to work here for the week while I’m learning Spanish. Oscar, the head chef was initially confused when I rocked up but by the end of the day he was delira with the extra set of hands and kept slipping olives into my pockets as he way of thanks.
Even Spanish classes have improved. Julie calls me sweet baby girl and kisses me all the time ( if only she knew). Classes are exhausting but so worthwhile I can at least string a few sentences together.
I’ve been in the hostel almost 3 weeks so it’s becoming very like home and getting more difficult to leave. One of my solid pals is Rodrigo. He’s a funny fish but the type of fish you like. He is Chilain with absolutely no English . His job is apparently selling avocados and jay cloths on the black market ( who knows?). Anyway he helps me with my Spanish, does the dishes and will occasionally throw me a steak and some yogurts. It must be quite a fruitful operation he is running (if you will ptp). We had swordfish last night which I bought on the street. It was $3,000 pesos for 2 huge fillets (same price as a beer). Not exactly your typical backpacker grub. Unfortunately, it turned out Rodigo was actually a terrible fish. He got really aggressive/abusive with me one of the nights while I was asleep and we subsequently had to call the guards and it was Hasta Luego to Rodrigo.
Mirko who works in the hostel brought a few of us up into the hills at night for drinks (definitely not advisable on your own). There are spectacular panorama views. Mauricio (another funny fish) from Argentina proclaimed it was the best night of his life. The night ended with Mauritio preforming some Opera. An uncomfortable yet hilarious experience. Mirko is a DJ and rapper so it was quite the contrast! The funny fish has been flocking in their droves a German girl refused to stay in a dorm with just guys as she felt uncomfortable. I took one for the team and gave her my bed, a room full of p’s whats not to love? The symphony of snoring soon transcended the room………HORRENDOUS. In fairness to the funny German girl she was right not to go into the room as it turned out Rodrigo was in the dorm.
Maca is Valaparaiso’s most famous trumpet player. She approached me after my your so vain performance asking me if I want toed see off the beaten track Valparaiso. She soon came to the conclusion that I am like Eguene from Hey Arnold. She’s amazed how I loose everything (already on third set of hostel keys). In fairness, probably not an inaccurate comparison. After school one day she took me to her home town. Such an authentic experience. The people here are some of the nicest I’ve ever met.
Another day, we went to Vina Del Mar which is described as Valparaiso’s glamorous sister. It’s 15 minutes by bus. They are worlds apart but Vina has some nice beaches where I had my first dip in the sea. This place was badly damaged by a tsunami in 2015. Even when I was swimming the waves were insane and I only found out afterwards your not allowed swim there and I can see why. After some ginger and lemon ice creams Maca brought me to the port where we were lucky to catch the seals and seagulls having their dinner. AMAZING! Maca is so kind and has even taken an interest into the lowpro gig and is making traditional Chilain food from scratch for one of the videos. Her salsa band were playing on Friday night so a gang of us went. Definitely one of my highlights so far.
The randomness continues, I was invited over to this old lad Alfredo’s house (long story). He offered me free accommodation and Spanish lessons in his house. I refused the above but compromised with tea/cake his in house. The wife was far from impressed and Alfredo turned out to be a complete odd ball. I couldn’t get out any of there quicker. Alfredo is already looking up flights to Ireland. Luckily I won’t be home so Úna and Dom can deal with that one. Dom is an expert in this department so I have no doubt Alfredo will be well fed with some bread and jam.
As I’ve mentioned before Valparaiso is a complete dream of a place but like anywhere in the world can be dangerous. Unfortunately, I had an extremely terrifying experience one sunny afternoon. I decided to explore some of the narrow hills to take some photos. Out of the blue two men ran towards me with knives screaming for my camera and pulling it from my neck. You never know how you are going to react in these situations. My instinct was to scream and sprint and I did; up a really steep hill and with camera around my neck. I tried to find my panic whistle while running (obviously in hindsight the panic whistle was unnecessary). Luckily there was a Man who heard the screaming and ended up scaring off the robbers. I was obviously extremely shook after the whole experience and ended up staying in a grocery shop for about half an hour. Trying to explain the whole situation in Spanish was quite taxing (impossible). I’m sure I made no sense. I re enacted the scene using spoons from their kitchen. They eventually understood and kindly walked me home that afternoon. I was afraid the men would be waiting at the bottom of the hill. This incident happened only 5 minutes from our hostel. I subsequently found out that it was on of Valparaiso’s most dangerous streets and is a common occurrence. Everyone warns you to be careful with you belongings but you never actually think it will happen to you. I was extremely lucky. It’s definitely taken me a while to get over it but has taught me to be more careful and that I’m not in Dublin anymore.
Maca my trumpet friend has since equipped me with pepper spray and a pocket knife! It’s just clear than even in day light how careful you have to be here. Between Rodrigo and the robbers it’s been a slightly traumatizing week but situations like this keep you on your toes and remind you of all the kind people out there.
The sleep situation is fairly grim here. I haven’t really slept in 3 days (not that that’s unusual for me). Sharing a dorm with Cian from Laois, the amazing Portuguese Pedro and Susie who has just arrived. Cian’s snoring is so outrageous it’s impressive. He gets away with it because he is absolutely hilarious and a legend. He even gets away with slagging my hairy legs. He was shocked at the state of them and described me as a ‘rugged beast’ which I will take as a complement!!
Myself, Nenny (our German pal), Joe and Susie did a really cool Grafitti Walking Tour with a chap called Ed. This place is famous with Artists all over the world and there is some seriously impressive street art wherever you turn. We lost two soldiers during the tour; Susie and Joe so myself and Nenny treated ourselves to the cities best Empanadas afterwards (Casa de la Empanada Portena) and bought gigantic bottles of Chillian wine!Probably the best thing I’ve eaten since arriving! Empanadas are absolutely everyone and the cheapest food option.
Disaster struck fairly early on in the trip when I lost my debit card. From speaking to other travelers most people bring at least 3 cards with them. I thought one would suffice considering how careful I am with my belongings! I did however bring 2 panic whistles, 2 first aid kits, tooth brush covers and a sleeping bag liner for a sleeping bag I don’t own !(priorities). I ended up leaving the debit card in the supermarket but didn’t cop it until 2 days later. Amazingly when I went down to the supermarket it had been handed in. Pedro played a blinder and did all the translating for me. I was blessed as I was down to my last peso! I continue to live up to my woeful track record with finances! Úna quick on the mark got a credit card couriered to Santiago! (he’s currently en route so fingers crossed he arrives asap). To celebrate the finding of the card we decided to all hit the tiles. It soon escalated with my new found love for Pisco Sours. I ended up hijacking the stage for a compulsory performance of ‘Your So Vain’. The Chilean’s went with it and even through my a few off key backing cords. This was followed by an Irish dancing session to some traditional Chilean music. Quite the spectacle!
The next day I was up at the crack of dawn (as per, due to Storm Cian). I hired Pedro for some private Spanish lessons. Although he was a good prof It was decided that professional help was needed. I decided to sign up for a weeks lessons. I love Valparaiso so much I would happily stay for weeks. My other roomie Ester is from Barcelona and doesn’t really speak English. It’s so funny we spend so much time together and she generally just laughs at my Spanish attempts but we get on great. It’s all hands on deck with the Spanish attempts. I’m desperate to learn. The french is creeping in more and more and obviously the couple focal! It didn’t realise how essential it was to speak Spanish here hardly anyone has English.
Myself and Susie had a fab 3 days together and I’m so glad our trips coincided. Susie is coming to the end of her 6 months of travelling and gave me so many tips. We spent our time eating, laughing and pottering between the numerous wine bars. We couldn’t’ have been luckier with our hostel friends. We even managed to squeeze in a lowpro video which was professionally produced by Cian and Pedro ( my in house low pro advisers).
I ended up getting severely lost in the city having dropped Nenny to to the bus stop. They call it a small San Franciso the hills are endless. It was scorching. I had decided to let Pedro mind all of my money and phone (post debit card disaster). I had no idea where we lived and obviously couldn’t remember the name of the hostel. I ended up stuck in the middle of a large protest. I was so dehydrated and hungry I ended up having a ‘brief ‘ nap on a bench, probably not the wisest idea in a fairly dodgy lane! Anyway hours later I scrambled home, nothing a few Cervazas didn’t cure. Lesson learned always bring dolla bills and know where you live!
With Cian and Susie gone another gang of Irish arrived so the party continued. We drank ginormous bottles of red wine ($3/bottle). We went out for some Pisco and live trumpet music absolutely amazing!
I took a 2 hour bus to explore Isla Negre a small coastal town nearby. Apparently there is some famous poet called Neruda that everyone’s mad about and he build a house here which is pretty cool. I just chilled on the rocks and watched the insanely big waves and read my book I am Pilgrim (thanks for the recommendation Cillian).
Full of optimism for my Spanish lessons I even wore some makeup and got dressed up (backpacker standard). I arrived, and soon realized I was the only student in the beginner class. First lesson was extremely full on. As most of you know I have a tendencies to have a little shut eye during meetings and classes. My first day was no exception. I fell asleep as Julie (my teacher) was writing on the board we are in this teeny room and it’s 3 hour straight of Spanish. She laughed about it and taught me know to say I’m nackered ‘Yo Tengo mucha cansado’. Classes are at 9am-12.15 for 5 days costing 118,00$ peso. I have to reign it on the vino tinto the night before and I genuinely think it would be a form of torture to endure Julie’s Spanish class hungover. It’s great that i’m getting 1 on 1 tuition but it’s fairly heavy stuff.
I eventually arrived in Santiago 40 hours after leaving Home Farm Road having taken the scenic route via Canada. For some reason I thought the flight was at 6 pm but it was 2 pm, made the flight by the skin of my teeth. I secretly wanted to cause some fuss before leaving.
Initial vibes in Santiago were a little grotty. Obviously in an attempt to keep the dolla bills healthy I decided to walk from bus stop to the hostel (over an hour). Backpack already proving painful!
Most of the guide books tell you Santiago isn’t up to much and not to stay longer than two days. Bella Vista is a trendy backpacker area with great nightlife. It’s also pretty dangerous. As I was walking home one day two guys were just snorting cocaine on the streets I was taking pictures of one of them with my really ‘discrete’ camera! I moved swiftly on, not wanting to be a witness in crime.
I was put in touch with Niall (friend of a friend) an Irish guy working here as a brand ambassador for Jameson. We went to the coolest coffee shop (Wonderland) I actually ended up leaving my hostel and stayed there for the night. It’s in an area called Lastarria (so much nicer than Bellavista, really cool and quirky vibes here defo recommend).
Niall got me an invite to a whiskey tasting at an art gallery that night. It was on the 11th floor of a building with amazing panoramic views of the city. I pre warned him I was going to look a bit rough and probably wasn’t the typical clientele. I was right; I looked grim everybody was super glam and there was no bar only tasters of Jameson (I could have done with the bottle).The cherry on the cake I spoke no Spanish and no one spoke English. After looking like a predator for most of the night I eventually found a really nice French guy who I clung too inappropriately all night. The crowd were v cool two of Micheal Jackson’s back up dancers were there and did a performance absolutely amazing experience.
During the day I visited Mercado Central a really famous fish market but extremely dodgy also. All of the vendors have their fish on display and you can eat from a number of different stalls.
I ended up chatting to this Chilean dentist, Gilbert who has been coming to this place for the past 30 years. It goes without saying my first mate of the trip was 60 years old and slightly creepy. He swears by the Caldillo de Congrio (Eel Soup made with potato and stock) is the best in the country. It looked mauldy but tasted decent as long as you avoided the eel’s guts. In fairness it was a step up from the usual Chilean fare of deep fat fired foods, burgers and hot dogs. So far the grub hasn’t been mighty.
I decided on my last day to go to Chile’s equivilant of Taste of Dublin. Amazing food, booze and music and a cracker of a day. I blew all my budget there. Chile is expensive so I am allowing myself 60$/day (ish). That night dinner was pretty bleek it consisted of banana and bread I bought off this woman on the street (turns out it was cannabis bread I was so hungry so I ate it anyway and it was acutally delish v good combo with the banana).
Next stop Valpariso. Only an 1 1/2 hours away from Santiago this place is the real ma-coy. Charming character, amazing street art and quaint little coffee shops. You can just get lost in this place. It’s a photographers dream!
Stayed in a fab hostel called Hostal Casa Verde Limo. Meeting Susie later so the plan is to stay for a while and learn some Espanol!