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Crossing the Andes – Chile to Argentina

Driving back to Santiago, from the Chilean coast, we made good time on the divided freeway, left the car at the airport and took a taxi to the bus station in time for a bite to eat before we boarded a bus to Mendoza, Argentina. Originally we had planned to rent a car for the duration of our trip but decided not to based on what we understood to be a time wasting and expensive border crossing from Chile to Argentina. The buses are cheap and comfortable in Chile so other than a man who picked his nose with great concentration and coughed out great whooping clouds of germs, it was quite pleasant. (I had seen him earlier in the restaurant and had jokingly said to Ale that he was probably going to sit beside her in the bus and sure enough….Ale changed her seat!!!) 

This bus trip rivalled one that I had taken in the Colombian Andes both in scope and beauty. The views were spectacular and we climbed to great heights on hair pin turn roads with steep drop offs. The sheer size of the Andes and the shape and contours of the various mountains more than make up for the somber monotony of their granite greyness. 

Finally, after 5 or so hours of steady climbing we reached the border where we were required to leave the bus and file slowly through the customs which turned out to be a nonevent. Passport handed over and stamped….no questions asked and we were on our way once more. As we got further into Argentina the bus started its decent and the valleys below reached up with green hues to meet the bus. Not too far into Argentina our friend with the cold left the bus and took his cough with him. We didn’t miss him. Another young man on the bus was from Mendoza, our destination and he had been away in Texas studying piano tuning. He was very excited about returning after months away from home.

As Mendoza approached the view outside the bus window became a friendlier landscape of rolling hills and pastoral vineyards a perfect harbinger of some wonderful wines to come.

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The Central Coast of Chile – Valparaiso, Vina del Mar & Algarrobo

Valparaiso is a Port City about 2 hrs west of Santiago. It sits along the coast between two favourite beach towns, Plata del Mar and Algarrobo. A rather run down dirty place, Valparaiso redeems itself with colourful street art and multihued homes that climb the steep hillsides from the harbour. So steep are the streets that there are many funiculars to help the locals move up and down.

Valparaiso is a great walking place and with a good map and good shoes you can wander the busy narrow streets that zigzag up and down the hills. Crowded with tourists, shoppers, diners and vendors there are plenty of shops selling art and various types of memorabilia, each sporting a bright coat of paint. The city has made such an effort to make itself attractive, it has been named a UNESCO world heritage site.

Again we were able to find a flat that was high above and streets and gave us a good view of the ocean and the city. The Chilean Navy is evident in Valparaiso and it is a major port for goods coming and going on large freighters. It is also a cruise ship port with a long malecon but there aren’t any really nice beaches in Valparaiso itself. We discovered a tourist map, outlining all the major sights and we were able to follow the map and see what we wanted to see in one day.

Having a car made it easy to drive north along the coast to Vina del Mar. We were hoping for a beach day but it was cool and foggy and instead we enjoyed a road trip. Vina del Mar is pretty swank compared to Valparaiso. There are huge new developments and shopping malls and high end looking bars and restaurants. Vina as it is know in Chile has long been known as Chile’s tourist capital but the wide boulevards, lined with palms and mansions might make it glitzy and exciting but it also looks like many other places in the world and their is little to none of the character and charm that you find in less frequented places in Chile.

A third day saw us driving down the coast to the city of Algarobbo. Here we found the beaches of the “people”. In spite of the lack of sunshine and a chill in the air we were able to walk the beaches and enjoy the crowds who lay expectantly in the sand as if the sun would appear any moment and as the day wore on and the fog wore off they were rewarded for their patience.

We discovered Pablo Neruda, Chiles favourite poet in Valparaiso, and when we were in Isla Negra we wanted to visit his house but it was closed. Neruda wrote “Ancient night and unruly sea beat at the walls of my house.” Neruda was a collector and his houses, three that I know of, were all stuffed with interesting memorabilia.

We took boat tour out to a sanctuary for Humboldt Penguins which are small but cute and plentiful. The island was home to many other types of birds as well, including the ubiquitous pelican. Several small bays shape the coastline and as January and February mean summer vacation for families it was very crowded. There are huge complexes of apartments and condos for vacationers and so many activities and adventures to be had.

Food on the coast was good and we had several nice dinners out in restaurants that ranged from family style to fine dining. Of course we found many seafood dishes but we also tried some local specialties. Although our “beach” vacation failed to materialize out of the fog and chill we found the area in and around Valparaiso to be well worth a visit no matter the weather.

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Santiago Chile

There are so many reasons to go to Chile the least of which is the Capital, Santiago. Santiago is encircled by the Andes to the east and the costal mountains to the west. On a breezy day this is a beautful setting but when the wind drops the air is grey with pollution, captured in the bowl of the mountains. I read that Chile is making an effort to clean things up and that they had signed the Paris Accord.

Chileno’s are warm and friendly people and we were very lucky to rent an apartment close to el centro that kept all four of us together. It was high up on the fourteenth floor and we a great view.

Altogether we had four days for wandering around and hitting the highlights including Santa Lucía park. A bit of a climb to the top but well worth the effort for the views. Santiago is easy to explore, a good guide book, google maps on your phone and maps from local tourist booths point the way to the main attractions.

Santiago like other South American cities has been rebuilt many times after devastating earthquakes and so it is a jumble of architectural styles depending on the era, the amount of rebuilding needed and the economía of the day. The oldest building we saw was the Iglesia San Francisco which dates back to the 16th century….a while ago.

I was in Santiago briefly in 2006 or so on my way to Valparaiso to catch a cruise ship bound for Antártica. At that time I had very little time to “see” Santiago so was happy to have a longer stay this time. We weren’t able to see as much as we wanted but we have one more day as we exit South America and return to Mexico.

Food in Santiago was very good and like many places in the world restaurants are using local ingredients to prepare innovative and traditional dishes. Chile is of course no slouch when it comes to wine and we had our share of very good ones. There are lots of wine tours available we did all of our tasting with meals or relaxing in our apartment after a busy day of sightseeing. Fish and shellfish were great as were the asados (barbque) and emanadas, although my friends from Mexico felt that the food lacked spice but they carried small bottles of chile sauce to pica the food.

Our plan is to see the central part of Chile first from the Pacific to the Andes, so after leaving Santiago we took the bus to Valparaiso, a coastal port town.

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A Month in Mexico…next stop South America

Mexico is beginning to feel like my second home. On the 29th of December I flew direct to Cancun and stayed overnight in my favourite little Mexican hotel, El Caribe. It is right across the street from the ADO bus station and after breakfast I took the ADO bus to Merida, changed for the bus to Progreso and by the late afternoon I was once again the proud tenant of Unit 3 in Casa Sol Mar. The hotel in Cancun and the buses to and from Cancun run frequently and are very affordable and break up the trip from Vancouver if you have the time.

Three weeks flew by and I occupied my time in Progreso with visiting friends, trips to Merida, a soccer game, volunteering in an English class and walks on the beach, a nice way to start a New Year. It’s interesting how Progreso changes every year and yet is always the same. Return visits to a hacienda, cenote and a Mayan Ruin never go amiss. while in the Yucatan, and this year I went to two new cenotes. One just outside of Progreso in the direction of Telchac named Sinache and the other in the direction of Campeche. The great thing about Sinache was the long paddle through the mangroves and the reward of swimming in the cenote with large carp. Had a return visit to a Hacienda (Sotuta de Peon) and yes the tour had changed to a degree but my favourite parts, the specialized equipment for making heinequein rope and the cenote were the same.


I rented a car and my neighbors and I drove to Campeche, stopping along the way at the “Chocolate Museum”. Campeche was as nice as ever and we stayed in a lovely hotel in El Centro and had dinner on a terrace overlooking the cathedral and the mainsquare. Night live in Campeche is vibrant and the outdoor bars and restaurants do a steady business with locals and tourists alike. It’s hard not to return to Campeche while I’m in Progreso because the Old City is so lovely. The malecón en Campeche is great and they had the remnants of a Christmas market just outside the walls of the city.

After a family wedding in Playa del Carmen I had four days in Mexico City where I was able to resume my love affair with the place and put some finishing touches on my trip to South America.

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Wander with Stella

This is the post excerpt.

Welcome to Wander with Stella. I hope you enjoy this blog about my travels and adventures. I love all the beauty and life I encounter as I roam the world, either solo or together with friends. I never miss an opportunity to explore even if it means going alone. When I wander, I do so relatively slowly so that I can savour all that an area has to offer; natural beauty, history, culture, politics, food and new friends; all find themselves captured in my minds eye and of course my camera.

Mendoza to Cordoba – First Stops in Argentina

Mendoza has so far been the agreed upon favourite place on our trip. Whether it was the wine, the beef steaks, the local fresh ice cream or the super friendly people we weren’t sure but our four days there could easily have been stretched for many days if our time was not finite.

Highlights in Mendoza included our flat, well located near the main Parque San Martin where we were able to take a tour of the city, wine bodegas and scope out where we wanted to spend more time. The center of Mendoza is busy and vibrant and we felt safe and comfortable getting around. We definitely did not need a car in Mendoza as the city is easy for walking and taxis and buses are cheap. We stayed in an Air BnB apartment in a great location close to all the action. 

We had enough time to explore around Mendoza and to see the vineyards that make this area of Argentina world famous. We took a local bus to  Cacheuta, about a forty minute ride from Mendoza, where they have hot springs or as they say “termas”. Parque de Aqua Termas is great, although crowed it has so many different pools and various terraces cut into the hillside above a river that you can easily find a “private” spot for your weary bones. In addition their are slides and a “river” of colder water if you enjoy being flushed around in a long circle of bobbing kids. The pools are surrounded by beautiful scenery, below a river and above the Andes. Plenty of food is on hand at the restaurants bordering the parque and souvenir shops abound.

Inside the Parque there are ticket booths for other activities and Javier and I went river rafting and there was just enough white water, making it worth our $25 CAD. The whole area around Mendoza is set up for adventure tourism including climbing, rappelling, and serious white water rafting. Given the prices it would make a vacation very inexpensive if you are coming from places like Canada. Sadly for the Argentines, their peso is very depressed at the moment which means a good rate for foreign tourists coming from a stronger economy. If fact we are finding Argentina to be considerably cheaper than Chile.

All good things must come to an end and with some luck and a little planning we decided to fly to our next destination, Córdoba, which as we flew over the vast patch of brown pampas we celebrated our serendipitous decision. Córdoba itself lacked the appeal of Mendoza and we spent one very hot Sunday wandering the streets only to discover that many of the thing we wanted to see were closed and the streets were eerily empty of traffic and walkers. A university town we explained the absence of activity on “sleeping late” since it was Sunday morning.

We were impressed by the number of colonial buildings and churches and the history behind these impressive reminders of the colonial era.

Like so much of Latin America, street art dominates the inner city and Cordoba had it’s fair share. I love the vibrant colours, the social messages and the sheer courage of public display.

By early afternoon, we found museum that was open in the former “palace” of the Ferreya family. The art pieces on display seemed lost and minor in the splendour of the palace but I enjoyed an exhibit of the works of local woman who were expressing their thoughts and ideas about the inequalities between the sexes. The works spoke to the violence and oppression experiences of women in Argentina, Because this was a government sponsored project it could be a hopeful sign that the consciousness around women’s rights is growing as it is in North America with the “Me Too” movement. 

Argentina still has a discernible siesta time lasting from anywhere between 2 and 5 pm, making it difficult to find open restaurants, shops and attractions. By late afternoon we had had enough of the heat and downtown and the call of our swimming pool was strengthened by the hour and so home we went for pool time, beer and a special visit from the usually reclusive house turtle.

Roma

Rome is like opening your grandmother’s attic only to discover that she had squirrelled away some amazing treasures and just when you think there couldn’t be anything else to surprise and delight, something else amazing jumps out to surprise you. The heart of Rome is not that big and in four days of wandering I covered a great deal of ground. Wandering is different from touring in that you don’t go to the sights but rather you let the sights come to you, emerging in your path, sometimes dictating the direction of your wander but never setting the agenda. This is my favourite way of traveling now that I can take the time to savour the treasures that spring from grandmother’s attic in no particular order and Rome did not disappoint.

If you’ve been to Rome and you’ve already done the “tour thing”, including the Vatican then you will appreciate my desire to just wander and let each turn of a corner bring back memories of my first visit and fuel new interests and ideas.

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As luck would have it a friend was in Milan and came down on the train to meet me in Rome so I had some company to enjoy what Rome offers in the way of sights, sounds, food, aromas and people.


One of the best things to do in Rome is people watch and of course listen. Romans tend to dress well and rarely do you see anyone slopping around in baggy pants and runners. Conversations tend to be loud, boisterous and accompanied by energetic gesticulations, as incomprehensible to me as the Italian language. It’s hard to imagine living your life in Rome but the people who are do it with style and ease.

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Of course the ancient ruins of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palantine Hill, the Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St. Paul’s Basilica are good reasons to go to Rome the first time. The grand piazzas, like Piazza Navona with its entertainers, street sellers and palaces, the views from the seven hills and making a wish in the Trevi Fountain are all traditional fair.

But when you make a return visit you should go prepared to savour and to experience Rome the city, greater than the sum of its parts. Seeing Rome as a living, breathing entity is seeing and appreciating its personality. Because Rome is a beautiful old thing and a self restoring treasure chest it transcends the normal experience of a city. Rome the “Eternal City” has earned its title for it truly is a place where the present lives alongside the past and the past enjoys a place in the sun out of the shadows of grandmother’s attic.