Dahlfin II Status
Having traveled much of Venezuela successfully during the 1997 hurricane season we decided to broaden our horizons during the 1998 hurricane season and traveled much of South America. We traveled over 9,000 miles visiting 5 countries: Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. The trip took 3 months: from 20 July to 19 October. In planning the trip we heavily used the Lonely Planet Guides, one for each country. We are also indebted to our mentors, Bob & Maria Rathburn on s/v HALCYON who took a much longer trip (6 months) the year before. After we went through all their papers, charts, itineraries etc., they spent countless hours with us answering our questions and helping us make decisions for our trip. It is our hope in producing this write-up that we may continue the flow of information for those who may be interested in taking a similar trip to any of these countries.
The only real reservations we made were for our International Flights (see chart in Appendix). We booked all of our International Flights ahead of time through a travel agent we had used before in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela - Marisol Nunez (Tel 67 16 07). Marisol did a very nice job for us and we believe she got us the best prices possible. This was probably the hardest part in planning the trip because we had to decide at the outset how much time we would spend in each country. While there is a certain security in having your flights booked ahead of time, it does hem you in and restrict your freedom somewhat. If we had to do it again, I'm not sure if we would even book our International Flights - I really liked the freedom to be able to pick and go as we wished.
The only reservation we personally made for hotels was for the first night in Lima. Since our flight didn't get in until 11:00 pm, we felt it prudent to have our hotel booked. It was also most convenient for us as the hotel sent a cab to get us at the airport - free of charge - and it was about 20 miles to the hotel. We also had reservations through a 15 day "package" which we booked in Lima for traveling in the rest of Peru. We would do this again because many of the towns we were in were quite rural and some of the connections we had to make could have been a little tenuous. Once we left Peru we were completely on our own and had no reservations for hotels or side trips including our trip on the Navimag through the Chilean fjords.
We probably could have saved some money here as we noticed that many back-packers often stayed in places for less than $10. We did feel, however, that it was important to us to have a private bedroom with a private bath & did not mind paying a little extra. Our hotels/pasadas/hosterias were in the middle scale in the Lonely Planet Guides & ranged from $12 to $55 per night. Argentina was definitely the most expensive and we quickly learned to ask for off season rates - "estaciones baja", often saving as much as $20/night. (This by the way is the reason we saved Ecuador until last, taking benefit of low season rates after September 15th.) Most of the hotels served desayuno (breakfast) included in the price. This varied from a roll, juice, and coffee to elaborate buffets. In many of the places, we stayed where Bob and Maria had stayed, taking advantage of their previous experiences. It was really nice to come into a town knowing where we were going to stay, tell a cab driver where we wanted to go and not have to lug our bags from place to place while looking for a hotel.
Upon flying into Lima we stayed at a very nice hotel, the Hostal Toreblanca, in an up-scale suburb, Miraflores. We would definitely do this again as the hotel was only a couple of blocks from the ocean and we enjoyed taking long walks through the parks overlooking the ocean. The hotel was also located within a few blocks of excellent shopping, restaurants, grocery store etc, and we felt very comfortable walking the main-streets, even at night. I doubt if we would have done that in the inner city of Lima which we did visit many times during the day. While in Lima we visited a number of outstanding museums, the Changing of the Guard at El Palacio de Gobierno and the San Franciscan Monastery with its catacombs underneath. For us, the number one attraction was the National Museum with impressive exhibits of Pre-Columbian archeological sites and artifacts and included a very impressive large model of Machu Pichu. A very close second was the Museo do Oro (Gold Museum) which contained room after room of gold artifacts: jewelry, crowns, helmets, armor etc.
To get to these places we booked day "tours", through Victor Travel Service (Tel: 433-3367, Fax: 431 0046) which we probably would not do again as he charged us $40/day just to drive us to the places and we still had to pay the entrance fees on our own. We think we could have done much better by just taking taxis.
We also booked a 15 day tour of the country through Victor Travel which we got much of the information for from Ken & Vicki Wright: s/v My Island Girl. This consisted of traveling down the Pacific coastline, into the mountains at Arequipa, and then ending up with Cusco and Machu Pichu. The tour included all travel arrangements, getting our bus/plane tickets, someone to take us to our transportation and meet us and take us to our hotels, arrange and get tickets and transport for all our side excursions. We probably could have done all of this on our own, saving some money, but having these arrangements already done for us saved us countless hours of hassle and freed us for more time to do the things we wanted to do. We know of at least one incident (the overnight bus to Arequipa) where we got tickets only because a local agent did it for us, while others had to wait until the next day. The hotels were also very nice and we probably couldn't have done as well on our own.
Here we will reiterate a few of the high-points of the trip:
In retrospect we would definitely book the major part of our Peru trip through Victor Travel again. We cannot say enough about his agents, arrangements made, how much we saw in the time we had, how smoothly everything went - until we reached Cusco. We cannot recommend using Victor Travel in Cusco because his agents there are just too unreliable - they were late in picking us up in every outing; we were late getting to the train for Aqua Calientes - there were no train tickets for us - we were the last ones on, boarding as the train was rolling out of the station with tickets just rushed-in by a guide, there were no bus tickets for Machupicchu, no entrance tickets, no guide - all of which we had paid for in advance. On the return trip to Cusco there were no train tickets for us, another guide took pity on us and helped us out but we were kicked out of our seats twice, on arriving in Cusco there was no one to meet us at the train station at 9 pm (a very bad part of town for tourists, especially at night), no transport to the hotel, no hotel reservations - again all of which we had paid for. Hindsight 20/20 - be sure to get everything in writing and save your vouchers every time you book something. We did and they helped us out many times.
If we were to do it again, we would just go to Cusco and find a tour agent there. There are dozens of good reputable tour offices all around the main square and they are very competitive. We talked with many people who used different agents and they were given complete packages which included: round trip train tickets with assigned seats, bus tickets to Machupicchu and entrance tickets - have them in hand before you leave. We would not recommend going down to the train station to get your own tickets. We talked with a few who did - it's a 3 to 4 hour wait the day before in a bad part of town and from what we could tell at very little savings. Nor would we recommend taking the local/non-tourist train. If you book to hike into Machupicchu with a group, the agency usually takes this train to cut costs. We talked with people who had no choice but to do this because of the group they were with and heard nothing but horror stories with baggage, trying to get seats etc. Note: when going to and from the train station be sure you have your taxi take you inside the station before letting you off. Most people who have security problems in Cusco, have them in the area just outside and adjacent to the train station.
Our main reason to go to Bolivia was to see Lake Titikaka. It hadn't been in our original itinerary, but with a little shuffling of dates, we were able to squeeze it in. Upon hearing accounts of the rather gruesome train ride (14 hours) to Puno and visiting the lake from the Peru side, we opted to take the plane to La Paz, Bolivia and then bus back to the lake. After talking with others who didn't have much good to say about Puno or the subsequent bus trip into Bolivia (again, lots of sand coming up through the floor), we believe this was a good decision for us.
Upon arriving in La Paz we taxied to the Hotel Saronoga because it's next door to Diana Tours. It was booked full, but a very nice lady agent at the tour office found us another hotel a couple of blocks away. We then booked a tour through Diana Tours which included: round trip bus to Copacabana, 3 days/2 nights with all meals for 2 days and a day excursion out to Isla del Sol for $162 for 2 people. At first we thought this was a good deal, but after finding out what things really cost we wouldn't do it that way again. The Ambassador Hotel, which the tour company is affiliated with, is one of the worst hotels we stayed at on the whole trip. We paid $40/night which included 3 meals/day. The actual cost of the hotel was $8/night/person - the other $24 was for the meals which was more food than we like to eat. In checking around, we found the Hotel Copacabana was clean, very nice, with a beautiful view of the lake (they told us the Ambassador Hotel had a view - but we never found it) for $29/night including desayuno. We could have easily eaten on the remaining $11 in one of the restaurants in town and been able to partake in a little local color which we missed by eating in the hotel. The trip out to Isla del Sol was with a guide by van over a rough road across Copacabana, then via a small local boat to the island. Would we do the trip again, we would book round trip on the Diana bus which leaves La Paz daily every morning and comes back each afternoon, take the catamaran on the first day which leaves daily for Isla del Sol (a longer boat ride and more fun), spend the first night in one of the hostels on top of the island (probably should have reservations for this one before you go out there) and (you don't need a guide to see and get around the island); return to Copacabana in the afternoon of the second day and spend the night at Hotel Copacabana; return to La Paz on the Diana bus on the 3rd day.
Lake Titikaka is beautiful and strangely reminded us of Lake Superior. We were able to take long walks at the lake's edge. We also climbed to the top of "The Calvary", a huge hill with 15 stations of the cross, where locals make a pilgrimage to the top where in a strange ritual to us they present model vans, stores, monopoly money etc. asking the Virgin to give them these things. Down below in the main square we saw the local priest blessing newly acquired cars and vans brightly decorated in what looked like New Year's Eve decorations. Although we enjoyed our visit to Lake Titikaka we saw more poverty in Copacabana and La Paz than we did anywhere else on the trip and we really did not enjoy La Paz very much. In talking with others we feel we probably did not do Bolivia justice by the short time we allowed for that country. I'm sure there are beautiful areas in the outskirts of La Paz and the cities in southern Bolivia. But we had only 3 months and there were other countries, particularly Chile where we wanted to concentrate more of our time.
After the rural areas of Peru and Bolivia, Argentina was quite a change. The European influence was quite evident along with a higher standard of living, clean cities and towns, and efficient modes of transportation. We saw very little evidence of poverty. However, to support these amenities, it definitely costs more to live and travel in Argentina. They are very proud of and work very hard to keep the local currency, the peso, on par with the American dollar - they are the only country in South America that has been able to do so.
Flying into Buenas Aires was exciting as with any large international airport. After getting our baggage, we used our VISA at a bank in the airport to get some pesos. Note: there is a bit of a scam by taxi drivers to take you from the airport into the city. We were approached by one right away who said it would cost $40, when we said no, he responded with $35. After we said no again, he continued to follow us all around the airport even waiting outside the bank while we got money - he even got a guard to come up to us and tell us he was a legitimate driver. We then checked with the Information Booth for an alternative which had been suggested in the Lonely Planet. There are mini-buses which will take you from the airport right to whatever hotel you want. You buy your tickets just outside the door, get on the mini-bus and when it is full (about 15 min.) it leaves. We used the San Martin Bus at $11/person including bags.
We used the Hotel Chile as our base of operations while in Buenos Aires. Even at $50/night it still wasn't a very good accommodation. However, we were in a good location in downtown Buenos Aires and in checking with other hotels, we would have had have to paid almost double to get anything better. It also had cable TV with a number of good American channels including CNN so we could keep up with what was going on in the rest of the world. We also bought daily newspapers in English, The Buenos Aires Herald. There was a good laundromat a block away on Rivadavia and an excellent communications center (Alas Center) on the corner of Uruguay and Rivadavia where we sent faxes home. The tourist information office on Av. Santa Fe was most helpful.
We just loved Buenos Aires. It really is the "Paris" of South America with all of its neat shops and sidewalk cafes. We walked everywhere taking day long trips that took us to the Congresso, the Recoleta (huge mausoleum cemetario where the wealthy are entombed - visited Eva Peron's tomb), the Pink Palace (presidential residence), and spent hours down by the newly refurbished river water front. We took the local bus ($0.65) to the Japanese Gardens where we sat on the veranda and watched a group of performing dancers - and then walked back through the upscale area of the Rocoleta. Portenos (Buenos Aires residents) love to eat and we particularly enjoyed their Italian restaurants.
For each country we had a list of priorities we wanted to visit and for Argentina, Iguazu Falls was one. There are two ways to get there: plane or bus which is less than half the cost. We chose the bus and this was our first experience with Argentina's efficient excellent bus system. To get our tickets we walked down to the Estacion Terminal De Omnibus which is a huge modern complex with ticket offices of over 100 carriers and dozens of platforms for loading/off-loading the buses. It was neat picking out our seats via computer screen. We went overnite (7 pm - 9:30 am) via Beroloche which is a double deck executive coach complete with a steward which included a 3 course supper with choice of wine, free after dinner drinks while we watched an after dinner video, wide plush fold down seats with blankets and pillows, and complete breakfast the next morning - all for $55/person. (Of our combined $110, we figured $50 of it would have gone for a hotel - so we thought this was a pretty good deal.)
In Puerto Iguazu we stayed right across the street from the bus station at the Hotel St. George, the best hotel on the whole trip complete with swimming pool, palm trees, huge buffet breakfast - all for $50/night (estaciones baja - reg. $80/night). Iguazu is sub-tropical and very humid. It's the only place on the whole trip, besides the Galapagos Islands, where we wore shorts. We took lovely walks around Puerto Iguazu and particularly enjoyed looking across the rivers where Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina come together. To get to the falls, we just walked across the street to the bus station and took a local bus ($4/person round trip). Entrance to falls was $5/person. Being many times larger than Niagara, the falls are absolutely spectacular. They have done an especially nice job with board walks across the tops of the falls and in many sections to the bottom. Unfortunately, we were not able to get out on the Devil's Throat because it was closed due to high water from rain. We did not see the falls from the Brazil side because it would have meant getting a passport and we didn't want to go through the bother or expense ($30/person) just for one day.
From Buenos Aires we continued to travel down the Atlantic Coast of Argentina via bus. Our first stop was Mar del Plata, a beach resort city with miles of beautiful sand beaches. Bob and Maria had been dissatisfied with their hotel here, the alternative we chose from the Lonely Planet (Hotel Aragon) no longer exists, but we lucked out by walking into the Hotel Cini, another very nice hotel which we bargained for off-season rates and got for $40/night. We enjoyed walking the beaches, which were nearly empty at the end of their winter and also took a self-guided tour of some of the lovely old mansions mentioned in the Lonely Planet. Note: when busing through Argentina and Chile we would often buy our bus ticket for our next jump upon arrival to the bus station so we wouldn't have to make an extra trip to the station and were ready to leave for the next leg.
Our next jump down the coast was to Bahia Blanca, a 7.5 hour trip which left at 1 in the afternoon. We were glad we bought a lunch to eat along the way. The topography was flat with rolling grasslands and fields with lots of cattle grazing, very few houses - looked like big corporate farming. We had no intentions of a lay-over day in Bahia Blanca, so when our bus pulled in at 8:25 pm right next to the Don Otto bus which we were going to take the next day to Trelew and which was leaving in 5 minutes, we made the decision to keep on going. The prospect of taking a taxi into town and getting a $50 hotel room that late and then waking up at 5:30 am to get back out to the bus station for the 11 hour trip didn't seem too inviting. It was a good decision.
Arrived in Trelew shortly after 7 am and went to the Centenario Hotel where we again negotiated off-season rates $80/night down to $55/night. Trelew was a clean interesting town to visit, but our main attraction was an excursion to go whale watching off Peninsula Valdes which we booked with Nieve Mar ($120 for transport to the peninsula and boat for 2 people). We were fortunate that we had come just at the right time - the whales come to this area to give birth and breed and just the day before they had counted over 400 in the area from helicopter. We were also fortunate because the worst enemy for whale watching, the wind, was down and we had a perfect day. Out of curiosity, the whales came right up to our boat and nothing can describe the thrill of seeing these enormous beautiful creatures in the wild. We saw a number of whales mating and even a new born calf about 5 days old. Our excursion also took us out to the end of the peninsula to view sea lions, but we were a little early for their season as there were only a few on the beach. While in Trelew we visited the Paleontological Museum and went to see Armegedon (English with Spanish sub-titles) in a beautiful amphitheater with assigned seating just a few blocks from the hotel. We took another tour through Nieve Mar to the Welch village of Gaiman where we went to a tea house for afternoon tea at $12/head. This was followed by a drive-through of the seacoast village of Rawson - wish we could have stopped and walked the waterfront.
We elected to fly the 600 miles from Trelew to Rio Gallegos because the topography was quite barren. By flying in the morning we were able to make connections right at the airport for a bus to take us that same day to El Calefate. Unfortunately the Interlagos bus which we wanted was delayed/broken down(?), so when we saw the Quebek bus roll in, we quickly booked on. Our main reason for going to El Calafate was to see the glacier ice fields which we did the next day by booking a tour through lnterlagos to Moreno Glacier. The glacier was most impressive, but we would not do it again by taking a side trip to El Calafate, which we found was very expensive for what you get and the 4 hour bus ride from Rio Gallegos and back was not all that interesting. Instead we would fly to Rio Gallegos and on that same day would continue on by bus to Punta Arenas - or better yet continue on the same flight to Ushuaia, the southern-most town in the world. We talked with other travelers who had made the trip, rode on dog sleds, enjoyed the magnificent surrounding mountains and were sorry we didn't know about it in advance so we could have allowed time for it. As for the Moreno Glacier, we would then take a long day side trip out of Puerto Natales, Chile up through the mountains while waiting for passage on the Navimag.
Without a doubt, Chile was our favorite country. Like Argentina it was clean, well organized and had an efficient easy to use bus system that was incredibly inexpensive. It was also the most beautiful country with lush green valleys, beautiful lakes and volcanos, and the rugged mountains of the Andes. Crossing the border was interesting and uneventful. We had to get off the bus twice to present our papers both in Argentina and Chile - at the Chile station they check to make sure you aren't bringing in food. Note: there is a time change from Argentina to Chile we didn't know about and for two days we were always one hour ahead.
In Punta Arenas we had a very nice room in Hotel Plaza which we negotiated for $54 (reg. $68). We enjoyed walking through the town and down on the water front where we could look across the Straits of Magellan to Tierra del Fuego.
We then bussed to Puerto Natales (4 hrs) and found a place to stay at Casa Cecilia which had been recommended to us by 2 other couples. We pass on the recommendation as we found the owners, Werner and Cecilia, to be most helpful in our stay in Puerto Natales. Our 2 priorities at Puerto Natales were to go into the Torres del Paine National Park and book passage on the Navimag. Werner was most helpful in obtaining transport for us to and from the park and finding places for us to stay. This was difficult because it was early spring (2 September) and the park wasn't scheduled to open for another 2 weeks. The key is to find other people who want to go in and then arrange local transportation all of which Werner did. We were also lucky in that he arranged a "round trip" ticket which we used piecemeal on 3 different days.
The first day we traveled to the park, toured through the whole park via van and with the group lunched (we brought along) at Pehoe Lake, visited Grey Glacier, and were dropped off at Refugio Rio Serrano near the Administration Offices, The next day we hiked around the area and in the afternoon took the van (1.5 hours late) back across the park to the entrance and back-packed in to a refugio at Hosteria Las Torres. Unfortunately, we got in after dark, missed the refugio and ended up in a dismal cement room offered by the caretaker of a construction crew. With no heat or electricity it was a low, cold night. The next morning we hiked over to the refugio where we stayed the next 2 nights. The refugios offer overnight accommodations with bunk-beds (you bring your own sleeping bags - we rented some from Werner) and an eating area and kitchen where meals are offered on an individual paid basis. They also give you kitchen privileges which was great for us as we had brought in packages of soup and makings for sandwiches. There is no electricity at all and the only heat is a small wood stove in the eating area. It got very cold at night and the wind would really howl (there was a snow storm one of the nights), yet it was a lot better than being out in a small pitched tent. During the days we did lots of hiking in the alpine meadows and along mountain streams. Nothing can describe the rugged majesty and beauty of this national park deep in the Chilean Andes. We have been in dozens of parks in the US and Canada and have never experienced anything like this. On the last day we back-packed out to the entrance where we were picked up in late afternoon and driven back to Puerto Natales.
Runs from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales and back. Round trip appears to run about 9 days, but this varies depending on weather, repairs etc. A schedule is usually made up at the beginning of each season late in August. Note: if you are concerned about room for the passage and have a choice, it seemed to us that the boats coming down were packed with more passengers than those heading north. So it may be easier to get on at Puerto Natales. The best place to make reservations is through:
Avenida Angelmo 2270, Puerto Montt
Tel/Fax: 0056 - 65 - 25 - 8555
We started calling from Buenos Aires and then once a week. The problem was that the main ship, the Port of Eden, was in and out for repairs so they were substituting other boats and the weather at this time of the year was producing a few problems, so they were off schedule. Both Marcella & Adrian of Travelers tried to help us out but really could give us nothing concrete so we kept on going and decided to just show up at the office in Puerto Natales. The office is located right down on the water front and we were able to book passage for the next trip north a week in advance. Then we took the 5 day trip into Torres del Paine. This is where we would also make the trip to the Moreno Glacier while waiting for the ferry. It's a long day (12-13 hrs), but in the long run cheaper and we believe through more beautiful country.
Without a doubt, our trip on the Navimag ferry through the rugged snow-covered mountains in channels that were at times incredibly narrow was one of the main high-points of the whole trip. Late one afternoon we weathered a snow storm with 50 knot winds. We were on a substitute boat called the Amadeo which was a real tramp steamer - room for 22 passengers (Port of Eden has 160 passengers) and 2 truck-loads of sheep (some of the sheep didn't make it), and a truck-load each of horses and cattle. It was just great. We had managed to procure the only private cabin for passengers (measured 6 feet by 7 feet - which included the bunks) and had our own steward and dining room as opposed to the cafeteria style meals on the Port of Eden. Had some weather concerns, so had to anchor out one night, had one engine which could only run at low rpm so it took an extra day. NOTE: don't make your schedule (flights and etc.) too tight at the other end of a Navimag trip.
Upon arriving at Puerto Montt we stayed one night at Hostal Millantu where Bob & Maria had stayed. But the next day, we were able to negotiate a beautiful suite of rooms overlooking the bay with cable TV at Hotel Colina for slightly more - again the advantages of low season. Puerto Montt has a neat shopping mall with a food court on the top level complete with KFC and a Pizza Hut. We did lots of walking around town and took advantage of the local buses (go to the main bus terminal half-way between the hotel and the Navimag dock) by taking day trips to the island of Chiloe and Puerto Varas. We also booked a two day boat/bus trip with Andina del Sud (2 blocks from the hotel) to Bariloche, Argentina.
Cruce de Lagos: Puerto Montt to Bariloche, Argentina
Although this was one of the more expensive side trips we took, it also was one of the most beautiful as we traveled via van, boat, and bus across the Andes back into Argentina and we would definitely do it again. We crossed mountain lakes nestled in between the lush forested high rising mountains. We arrived at Peulla in early afternoon for lunch at the hotel where we planned to stay the night. Many have lunch in the hotel's dining room before turning back or heading on to Bariloche. We were glad that we had brought along sandwiches and fruit and ate in the coffee shop dining room along with many others doing the same thing. In the afternoon we did some hiking around on trails and up to a waterfall. Although the hotel cost $120/night for two, this price also included a candlelight sumptuous 4 course supper and buffet breakfast the next morning, some of the best food we had on the whole trip, so it wasn't too bad. The next day we continued on via boat and bus. The one lane dirt road trip across the border was particularly beautiful passing through rugged "southern" boreal forest complete with snow and reminded us a lot of northern Wisconsin in the winter. At Puerto Blest we had a 2 hour layover and elected to hike around the lake and then up to the waterfalls (700 steps) and then meet the boat on the other side. On our last boat trip, our guide came around and asked what hotel we were going to. Since we had no reservations she made them for us via VHF radio, neat. To complete the tour, a bus met us at the boat landing and delivered us all to our separate hotels - very nice. (Note: in off-season you can do the whole trip in one day thus avoiding the hotel cost. We would not advise this because the last leg of the trip on the last lake is done in the dark and you miss alot. Those who sign up for this option don't know this until it's too late.)
Bariloche is a ski resort town and we just loved it. We hiked all over town sampling the chocolate for which it is well known, rode the Teleferico for a magnificent overview of the area, ate in the revolving restaurant at the top, took the local bus out to Llao-Llao for hiking in the forest, and found a neat little restaurant where we had wine and thick Argentine steak dinners for $10/two people - ate there twice.
BACK TO CHILE
The bus trip back across the Andes was just as beautiful minus the boat trips on the lakes. Once again we enjoyed the economy of the Chilean bus system a we traveled to Orsono and northward. Instead of going from Orsono to Temuco and then back to Pucon where we wanted to do more hiking, we elected to transfer at Lancoche. This is really off the beaten track, it's not even in the Lonely Planet guide and when we were let off in a little town with an open air "bus station" we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. There was no bus and the ticket station was barely an opening in the wall. It was a bit of a low moment but in 15 minutes the bus appeared and we were off to Villarrica and then Pucon.
Pucon: It had been our intention to stay at Ecole which is given high praise in the Lonely Planet. After checking it out we feel it is highly overrated and settled on La Tetera located in the middle of the same block. It is much newer, has better accommodations and really does have the best breakfasts in town which come with the room. The owners, Hans and his wife, reminded us a lot of Werner & Cecilia in Puerto Natales. Hans helped to arrange local bus transportation for us into the forest where we hiked back through the country-side 15 km back into town. It was beautiful as we followed a winding stream and stopped to eat a picnic lunch Hans had packed for us. While in Pucon we also went white-water rafting (the first time ever) in the rushing rapids and spring runoff of the Chilean Andes. Armed with wet suits, life jackets, helmets, and paddles we survived grade 4 and 4+ rapids. It was the most exciting thing we ever did in our whole lives.
From Pucon we continued north via bus to Temuco and then Chillian where we visited one of Chile's largest open markets and saw the movie "Zorro". Our Chilean bussing ended in Santiago. We stayed at the Hotel Panamericano for about $47/night. (Note: this is the first hotel where desayuno was not included.) We checked around for other hotels, but would have had to pay $120/night to get anything better. While in Santiago we walked around the city alot and took a City Tour where we went to the race track, the presidential palace, and the hill San Cristobal for a view of the city. We also took in another movie "Saving Private Ryan" in English with Spanish sub-titles. From Santiago we booked a day trip to the ocean to visit the old sea port town of Valpariso and the much newer plush resort town of Vina del Mar. The trip was also interesting because it took us through some very beautiful countryside: valleys and across/through small mountain ranges.
Our flight took us from Santiago, Chile to Lima, Peru to Guayaquil, Ecuador and then to Quito. We quickly found out that Guayaquil, which is an ocean port, is very hot (in the 90's) while Quito lies nestled in the mountains and is comfortably cool (in the 70's) with a climate that rarely changes. We checked in at Hostal Camilas which became our base of operations during our 3 different stays in Quito. It is beautifully done in restored Spanish decor and well situated in the heart of Quito close to museums, shops, and restaurants. We especially enjoyed eating at Quito's varied restaurants at incredibly low prices.
Unknowingly we flew into a rather tenuous situation in Ecuador. A new government had just taken over 3 weeks prior and in protest the indigenous people were setting up road and train blockades all over the country. In addition, the banditos were on the rise where they would stop buses and rob passengers of all money, jewelry, and paper: passports, driver's licenses - the newspaper recorded 307 of these robberies. Thus between the two, much of the surface travel of the country was shut down, which was our main mode of transportation once we got into a country. Metropolitan Touring which is the largest agency and which we planned to do a number of tours through was almost shut down. Two very big disappointments for us were that because of this we couldn't go up to Mt. Cotopaxi or take the spectacular Riobamba train ride. We did, however, book a 1/2 day city tour through Metropolitan Tours (phone - 506651) which took us into Old Town to visit some government buildings and the cathedral - note it is advised to not go into Old Town without a guide. We also booked a 1/2 day tour to La Mitad del Mundo, the site of the equator, and took pictures with our feet on either side of the equatorial marker. While in Quito we visited the Museo del Banco Central, which was probably the best museum we saw on the whole trip with displays of different period and area artifacts of ceramic and gold well explained in both Spanish and English.
To see a little more of the country we flew south to Cuenca for 3.5 days - wish we could have experienced the lovely Ecuador countryside from the road. In Cuenca we stayed at the Hotel El Quijote, one of the nicest hotels on the whole trip. We took a trip one day with a guide for some hiking in the mountains in El Cajas Park. On the second day we took another trip with the same guide to Inga Pirca, Ecuador's largest Inca ruins and on the way encountered the remains of one of the Indian blockades but got through. On both trips we discovered the beauty of the Ecuador countryside with its rolling green hills, lush valleys, pristine mountain lakes and quaint little villages. This whole package was booked through Andes Adventures (phone/fax 593 2 230439) and we felt they did a very nice job for us.
Upon returning to Quito, things were opening up enough that we were able to travel north to Otavalo, for its famous Saturday market. On the way we stopped at another equator marker, visited Caldron where the famous bread dough figurines are made and visited a primitive bakery in a small town. The Otavalo market was clearly the best we saw on the whole trip specializing in woven wall hangings, clothing, jewelry, paintings, leather products, and copper ware. On the way back we had lunch (included) at a beautiful restored Spanish hacienda complete with accompanying mountain/pan flute music. We took this tour through Metropolitan who again did a very nice job.
When our jungle river trip fell through because of over-booking and one of the adjacent volcanos was threatening to blow (2 explosions and 8 seismic events in just one day) we decided to try and go out to the Galapagos Islands. This certainly was not in our original itinerary and was decided pretty much on the spot. Because it was low season (October) it was relatively easy to get a booking and quite reasonable compared to almost double the cost in high season. There are travel agencies all along Amazonas (just a few blocks from the Hostal Camilas) all of which have access to the main boats in in the islands. We chose to go again with Andes Adventures because of a recommendation we had received from other travelers. Note: although the Lonely Planet guide says you can just fly out to the islands and then book on a boat once you get there, we wouldn't advise it. There is only one flight each day out to and back from the islands. The tour boats are all set up in staggered schedules so their clients won't descend on the flight all on the same day. We know of people who flew out on our flight with no boat booked and they were just lucky that there was room on our boat because there was no apparent transportation from the airport to Puerto Ayora. Some other hints in booking a tour:
For us the Galapagos Islands far exceeded all our expectations of what we had heard, read, and viewed via National Geographic movies, etc. We saw Red Footed, Blue Footed, and Masked Boobies, land and marine iguanas, sea lions everywhere - one pup which had just been born, albatrosses, land tortoises, and even swam with the sea lions. Due to the after effects of El Nino, the islands were green and plush with varied vegetation and not the desert topography we had expected. All in all - the Galapagos Islands were a fitting end to a wonderful 3 months of traveling in South America.
We used primarily VISA which worked very well in all countries except a couple of times when we had to use Master Card in Argentina. We each had a VISA card in our own name, so if we ever got separated we would have access to money. We got most of our money from ATM machines outside of banks - but used them only when the banks were open in case we had a problem with the machine and couldn't get our card back. (Note: a common tactic we heard is to put tape or saran wrap in the machine and when you can't get your card out and leave for help, someone else gets the card.) When we needed more than the daily limit the ATM would give us, we would go inside and then go to the special services section, present our passports, etc.
We carried $2000 US in small denominations in special pockets in our clothing to be used for emergencies and glad we did. It seemed that every Independence Day for each country followed us around the continent and in some countries the celebrations lasted many days (Chile - 4.5 days; Bolivia - 8 days) closing down all businesses and banks. So there were times we were not able to get money because we were reluctant to use machines when the banks weren't open. We found the U.S. dollar was not only good, bit sought after everywhere we went. Even the locals in the rural open markets knew the going rate and would give us whatever we wanted and give fair change on our money. It was important to use small denominations, however. We also carried $500 in Traveler's Checks which we never used.
It really wasn't hard to get used to the different currencies or conversions. Note: we always carried a hand calculator for on-the-spot conversions. The following are the currencies and conversion rates we used in 1998:
|Country||Unit of Currency||Exchange Rate|
|Peru||Sol||$1 US = 2.87 soles|
|Bolivia||Boliver||$1 US =~ 5 bolivers|
|Argentina||Peso||$1 US = 0.98 pesos|
|Chile||Peso||$1 US = 471 pesos|
|Ecuador||Sucre||$1 US = 6,200 sucres|
Probably the single most question we were asked after the trip by everyone we talked with was if we were robbed or afraid. A lot of the travelers we talked with did have problems, but for us the answer to both questions is "no". We did engage in a number of preventive measures which we believe helped alot. We were also very conservative and cautious in our behavior especially in the beginning. For example - we often had our big meal in the middle of the day and ate lightly in our hotel room at night so we wouldn't have to go out at night. However, by the end of the trip we were eating out every night in downtown Quito which is probably one of the higher risk areas we were in. Here are some of the safety measures we took:
We carried along all our prescription medicine for 3 months plus vitamins, the usual Tylenol, thermometer, and antihistamine (Dristan), prescription anti-diarrhea medicine, prescription anti-stomach cramps medicine, and most importantly Ciprofloxin. We both had at least two severe bouts with lower intestinal cramps and diarrhea and had to use Ciprofloxin each time. For milder disorders we used Lotrim which also works very well. We were extremely careful with water and used only bottled water even for brushing our teeth in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. In Argentina we used tap water pretty much through the whole country and had no problems. In Chile we used bottle water in small towns (probably would not have had to), and tap water in the cities.
CUSTOMS and IMMIGRATION
No real problems. Everything is pretty clear in the airports and when crossing borders via bus we just followed directions. One tip: be sure to save the little immigration papers given to you when you enter the country. You need them for leaving the country. Bonnie lost her's in Peru and had to get another at the Cusco airport when leaving for an extra fee.
BAGGAGE and WHAT WE TOOK ALONG
We really tried to travel light, taking each a backpack which had wheels and an extendable handle which was just great for airports, walking streets, etc. These two bags were our carry-on luggage and went with us everywhere as they contained all our valuables, medicine, one change of clothes - what we would need if our other bag was lost. They were also the bags we took on our side trips leaving our other bag at the hotel. We had only one other bag - a large sea-bag/athletic bad with wheels on one end and a handle on the other which we checked in at airports and buses. This until Ecuador. We bought so many souvenirs there, including four large wall tapestries that we had to buy another sea-bag to get them back. We didn't mind because it was the last leg of the trip.
Clothing we each had:
With all the hiking we did, it would have been nice to have our hiking boots along but they just take up too much room when not in use. At it was, a sturdy pair of sneakers did us nicely. We also voted to take collapsible umbrellas instead of bulky rain gear which worked nicely. (We really didn't experience much rain on the trip.) It helped that our jackets were highly water resistant. Ron lost his jacket in Peru and bought a nice one with a zip-out liner in Arequipa which worked out well for our changes in climate. Bonnie had a parka (no liner) and then a light weight wind shell.
Some other things to bring:
It would have been very nice to have a much better command of the Spanish language - 2 years of high school Spanish would have been great. We had learned some Spanish from the year before and certainly learned a lot more on the trip. We used the book "Easy Spanish" by Shirley Herd (West Marine) which was most helpful with-specific phrases - AND it had phonetic pronunciations. We feel the very basic minimum is that you need to know numbers and how to pronounce vowels. We quickly learned some pat phrases and a couple of reliable defense mechanisms. Even though we had a reasonable command of numbers, we often used a hand calculator for people to tell us how much something cost. This was especially effective in rural open-markets as the vendors thought it was kind of neat punching out their prices on the calculator - we even bargained via the calculator. Because we often got questioning looks with our pronunciation, we found it beneficial to write out certain questions with blanks for answers to be written in. This was especially helpful in purchasing bus tickets where we would list our destination and the date we wanted to travel
|For example: Rio Gallegos --> El Calafate|
|hoy, Viernes, 28 Agosto||(the date we wanted to travel)|
|?hora de salida?||(what is the time of departure)|
|?hora de llegoda?||(what is the time of arrival)|
|?Cuanto es? (Tarifa)||(how much does it cost)|
|?platform?||(on which platform do we board)|
We also found it especially helpful to have the hotel AND address (which
we got from the Lonely Planet Guide) written out on a card to give
taxi drivers. Speaking of taxi drivers - we quickly learned to
negotiate the fare BEFORE the ride and have them write it out in their
own handwriting on the card.
These spreadsheets contain cost breakdowns for the trip. All amounts are in U.S. dollars and are for 2 people.