baby blue, but you can´t tell in this pic

joylani 130pxSalta has been a nice change of pace from the other places in Argentina we have visited. It’s hot. After being in the cool mountainous south of Chile and Argentina (minus Santiago, which was also hot), each time we step outside we feel as though we are melting in the 90+ heat. This is both a blessing and a trial—while we are glad to finally shed our outer layer of fleece, it is just too hot to walk around all day. Taking a clue from the locals, we’ve learned to disappear inside in front of a fan during the hot afternoon hours. From about 1 or 2, right after lunch, until 4 or 5 many people seem to vanish and shops are closed, but by evening time the parks are hopping and residents are out and about eating ice-cream on double-scoop Siamese cones and running errands in shops that have just opened from their afternoon hiatus.
It’s not just the weather that’s different. The colorful American-colonial look of the town gives off a warm and inviting atmosphere (as opposed to the proper and somewhat imposing European-style architecture of Buenos Aires). The streets in the old area of town, where we have done most of our roaming, are lined with smooth stucco’d walls of buildings; I assume each one holds a sunny courtyard in the middle. Many of the buildings are painted white, but others glow in baths of yellow, red, or peach paint. Even the churches have taken a dip in the paint bucket, and my favorites have come out baby blue, pink, and red (with white and gold trim).
We found a good way to keep cool was to go to peruse the Museum of High Altitude Archeology for a while, taking advantage of the blasting AC. This museum houses interesting information about archeological finds in the region including video presentations, expedition paraphernalia, and, of course, archeological finds. Artifacts included gold llama figures, dolls (to help transport souls), etc., with the most popular finds being three mummified children who had been sacrificed to the gods. Now, there weren’t your usual wrapped in cloth-oh-no-we-need-Brendan-Fraiser’s-help Egyptian mummies. The mummies in the museum are small, shrunken children, hunched over in the fetal position, dressed in ceremonial clothes, with their exposed skin pulled taught over what is left of their former selves. Hair is still attached, eyes are closed, and strange expressions rest on each face. (Yeh, they were a little creepy to look at.) Each one is housed in its own room; each room includes artifacts found with the mummy and a likely story of the child’s health, age, and social status and reason for being sacrificed. The expedition gear included things like snow suits and cramp-on as the religious burial sites are located high up on mountains. It can be assumed that these children were important sacrifices due to the effort of getting them up there to perform the ritual in the first place. The museum also housed a small but thoughtfully stocked gift-shop with various hand-woven textiles, jewelry, and the usual museum fare. Also, if you get up early and make it to the museum during the first hour (9-10 am I think), admission is free and you can spend your eight extra dollars on humitas and ice-cream cones.
On the gastronomic side of things, we have finally found tamales and tried the humitas. The tamales are cube-shaped with the cornmeal dough more loosely packed and less fine than those I am used to eating at home. Sadly, there was no salsa verde to put on top, but they were tasty nonetheless. Humitas are essentially tamales with no filling, though sometimes there are little pockets of warm melted cheese hidden in the cornmeal dough. We’ve been getting them dulce, or sweet, and they are quite delicious. The first day we tried them in a little restaurant, but then we discovered the food court at the local market. There are dozens of stalls selling tamales and humitas (4-5 pesos each), 3 empanadas + a glass of coke (5 pesos), and personal pizzas with a puddle of grease in the center (10 pesos). They all sell the same thing, and all at the same prices, but we stuck to the same stall near the entrance each time we went for our daily dose of greasy goodness. Our limit is a couple tamales or empanadas a piece before we start to feel the oil oozing through our veins. The humitas aren’t as oily, but with all the cornmeal dough and cheese they are a bit heavy. Oil aside, the snacking is good. And Salta has been a satisfying stopover on our way North.



the red one


the pink one

Santiago to Salta

matt 120pxDefinition of misery: Leaving Santiago on a bus at 10:30 pm. Getting woken up at 1:30am to go through Chilean Immigration, then Argentina Immigration, then wait for Argentine Customs to inspect all the bag on the bus. Go back to sleep at 2:30am, only to be woken at 5am when the bus pulls into Mendoza. Try to kill 7.5 hours in Mendoza (read: sleep on bus station benches, buy bus tickets, walk to supermarket to buy food, wait, wait, wait). Depart Mendoza at 12:30pm and try not to go insane while driving through hot unchanging desert for the next 20 hours.

Definition of Happiness: Arriving in Salta after 36 hours on buses.

Chilean Economy


matt 120pxI haven’t written a market or economic-related post is awhile. It’s definitely not because nothing has been happening. Since my last post about the Vietnamese economy, we’ve visited China, the US, Korea, and Japan while the oil/commodities bubble has popped, the credit crisis has intensified, the currency markets have crashed, stock markets have been taken down substantially, and governments and the IMF have been rolling out aid/bailout packages daily. As a student of economics and finance, its been an unbelievably interesting past few months (of course, that’s ignoring the extreme pain I’m experiencing in my portfolio). Perhaps, at some point, I’ll have to write a post chronicling our journey during the credit crisis (this trip and the credit crisis began in July 2007) and the impact its had/having in the places we’ve visited. I’m not sure if anyone even reads these posts, but at least it would be interesting for me to record.

            For now, I’ll just refresh my financial writing with a little tidbit on the Chilean economy. Developmentally speaking, Chile is the most developed South American country. It’s a small country, measured both by area and population (only 18 million), which was ruled by a dictator for 20 of the last 30 years (I feel that they know how to get things done). It has enjoyed a huge economic boom for the past few years, with both the Chilean peso and the IPSA (Chilean benchmark index) outperforming. This is due to the fact that 70% of Chile’s GDP is commodities-related (mostly mining, agriculture, and fishing). Chile’s mineral exports have supplied the rapidly growing economies of Asia and, thus, helped fuel the huge bull market of the past few years. Everything was good until the commodities bubble popped in July 2008. Everything from oil to wheat has crashed from their historic highs, while the current deleveraging of all assets around the world has added increased pressure. The Chilean peso has crashed in the past few months, which has made traveling here substantially cheaper for us (locals say this is the first time in years that Chile is cheaper than Argentina).

            So things are bad in Chile. But things are bad around the world right now, so what’s the outlook for Chile? Well, the good news is that the country is not strung out on credit like Iceland, the Ukraine, or Pakistan (or any of the other countries that need massive IMF loans to function) and probably won’t default. The bad news is, of course, that Chile is dependent of commodities. And with a worldwide slowdown/recession/depression looming, demand for Chile’s (and all commodity exporters) commodities have fallen off a cliff. From the copper mines in the north to hydrocarbon reserves in the south, the whole of Chile is entering a tough period. The problem with commodities is that their value is determined solely by supply and demand. Thus, Chile is dependent upon world growth for its own growth. It doesn’t have enough domestic industry to pull it out of this global downturn. The bottom line? Chile is better prepared than most other commodity-centric economies in SA, but it still is reliant on global demand/growth. Chile is not in control of its fate: Chilean GDP growth is directly correlated to global GDP growth and that does not bode well for Chile, for the foreseeable future.


Plaza in Santiago

matt 120pxExpectations have an exaggerated influence on our experiences  in all areas of our lives and travel is no exception. I try my best to travel with a completely open-mind, no expectations or biases. Of course, this is nearly impossible to do; how can you read about or talk to people about a place and not have those facts/ideas influence you? And so we arrived in Santiago with thoroughly low expectations. Several travelers had told us to avoid it if possible, while our guidebook even said that it can take awhile to appreciate the city.

            Perhaps it was only due to my über-low expectations, but I actually liked Santiago. It’s a pretty modern city with (and very key) a good availability of snacks and street food. Like BA, the only other SA capitol we’ve been to so far, Santiago has a third of the country’s population. Luckily, Chile only has a third of Argentina’s population, so Santiago is not too crowded. Unlike BA, Santiago is relatively clean, has good public transportation (good metro, no black-exhaust-spewing buses), and lacks the incessant littering of the Argentine capitol. On our first day, we explored the city center with the highlight being Santa Lucia. Santa Lucia is a hill in the middle of the otherwise flat city (although it is surrounded by snow-capped mountains), with numerous gardens, a cathedral, and the ruins of an old fortress and its ramparts. It was a cool place because old architecture was either built into or cut out of the rock. From the peak were awesome views of the sprawling city, although heavy smog/haze rendered the surrounding mountains nearly invisible.


            We spent much of today scouring the city for an English-language bookstore to buy a Bolivia guidebook, but our search turned up empty. At least we got to see a lot more of the city though. Santiago doesn’t have a whole lot of appealing sights to see, but we did check out the uninteresting National History Museum as well as the equally uninteresting (and now-electronic) trading floor of the Bolsa de Comercio (Santiago’s stock exchange). To kill the rest of the time until our bus tonight, we caught an afternoon showing of “Quantum de Solace,” the newest 007 flick. Luckily it was in English, although the Spanish dialogue wasn’t subtitled. It was interesting though, as much of the movie was filmed in Chile’s Atacama Desert. In fact, I read that there was big fiasco and filming was interrupted because some Chilean politicians objected to Chilean land being depicted in the film as Bolivia (Chile invaded and acquired the disputed land in the 1830’s, although Bolivia still does not recognize it and has some holiday regarding the stolen land). Despite the bad reviews, I thought it was a good film. Sure there’s not as much plot as the first Daniel Craig one, but it had good action and fight scenes. Plus, I like that there’s not all the gadgets and stuff from the old Bond movies. Anyways, I was entertained and it was more interesting given that we were in Chile and headed to Bolivia (although the desert scenes were shot in Chile and the La Paz scenes were shot in Panama City, the plot focused on the water shortage in Bolivia and the battle against privatization of water utilities, which is grounded in recent history; if you’re interested, Google some combo of Bolivia, water wars, and Bechtel).


            We didn’t do too much- hung out at some parks/plazas, people-watched, and visited a few sights- but it doesn’t seem like there is a lot to do in Santiago. In total, we were only in Santiago for two full days. Just long enough to acquire a good first impression and probably just short enough to not have it spoiled.

Santiago by Accident


Easter Island statue in Santiago

a little bit of Rapa Nui

joylani 130pxWe ended up going to Santiago sort of by accident.  Originally we had wanted to return to Argentina from Coyhaique, but to get to our destination, El Bolson, required taking two buses.  We had two options for this: take a bus to Sarmiento and transfer to another bus to El Bolson, or, we could take a bus headed to Puerto Montt (via Argentina as either there is no direct road heading north from Coyhaique or else the road in Argentina is much better, I’m not quite sure how it works) and then, because we would not be allowed to get off in Argentina for some unknown and stupid reason (probably involving someone potentially being able to make money off us) hop on another bus heading back in the direction we came for 4-6 hours, and then yet another bus for the final couple hours. 
this is what i am talking about

Joylani's proposed itinerary for Lake District

Well, we decided to take the second option because it was a little bit cheaper, and I think they both would end up taking about the same amount of time.  Plus we’d liked Chile so far, so if we had to go through Puerto Montt ( and the towns north) anyways, maybe one of the places would seem nice and since we were there anyways we could stay for a day or two before heading back to Argentina.  Well, our first bus crossed through El Bolson at about 5am.  Not much was happening that early, but we could see that it looked very much like a tourist-oriented place with street lined with souvenier shops and the like.  It was very beautiful, but we’d just spent the last couple weeks in very nice scenery.  We decided that it wasn’t worth it to us to come back 6+ hours to this destination as we wanted to move on and see something else.  So we continued on to Puerto Montt, and there, after weighing our options for where to cross back into Argentina, decided to head up to Santiago for a couple days, then head east and cross over into Argentina arriving in Mendoza, the heart of Argentine wine country, from where we would head north.  Santiago was not originally on our to-see list because it conflicted geographically with our plan to go to El Bolson, but also because we were tired of being in a city, specifically Buenos Aires, but we’d heard Santiago was worse.  Ironically, by the time we reached Santiago, we had been in rural and small town areas for so long that we were quite ready to be in a city somewhere.  And we found Santiago to actually be quite nice.  In contrast to Buenos Aires, the sidewalks are very wide, and there just seems to be overall more space in the downtown area.  In addition to the spacious sidewalks, there are just less people in Santiago than Buenos Aires, which also contributed to the un-crowded feeling.  Buildings seemed fresher, and overall Santiago had a cheery feel.  The park areas have nice grass and a lush assortment of trees, and plazas with plenty of benches.  I can’t really put my finger on why it was so nice, but it just was.  We walked around the city a lot, enjoyed a few parks and plazas, went to a museum, and, of course, saw the stock market.  There was a lot more that we could have seen and done, and tonight as we leave I feel satisfied that we had a good time and also knowing that there is a lot more Santiago has to offer which we could have done.


Puerto Montt


matt 120pxI’m not sure if improvisation is an aspect of travel or a synonym of it, but we’ve been doing a lot of improvising lately. After countless changes of plans and a 20-hour bus ride (that for lack-of-infrastructure reasons) took us into Argentina and then back into Chile, we arrived in Puerto Montt. The plan was to head back into Argentina, but having passed through our destination (no passengers are allowed off in Argentina for some reason) and not being too impressed, we decided to head north next. The only question was: should we stay in Puerto Montt or just hop on the next night bus to Santiago?

            It was raining steadily when our bus pulled into Puerto Montt. Despite the grey dampness that pervaded the city, we decided to stay at least a night and have a look around. For the first time since arriving in South America, we followed a tout. He seemed nice and showed us cards and photos from a few hotels. We agreed to have a look at one of them and followed him a couple blocks. When we stopped in front of an industrial building on a deserted street and rang the bell, we asked where the hotel was. He told us that this was an alternate location, to which we said we’ll look for our own and walked away. Walking through the downpour towards the closest recommendation in our guidebook, we decided to never follow another tout in South America.

            We did find the place in our book, a nice family-run hospedaje close to everything in town. Besides checking our email and buying some food from the market, we stayed inside all afternoon due to the rain. I was beginning to doubt our decision to stay in Puerto Montt, because it was pouring so hard, it was impossible to do or see anything.  After dinner, we contented ourselves with a movie night of sorts, since our room had a TV with some English movie channels.

            It was overcast all day today, but it only rained a little bit in the midday. We started our day by walking down to the water (Pacific Ocean for the first time in awhile) and along the waterfront for a couple kilometers to the fishing port of Angelmo. There were a lot of colorful fishing boats docked and a few smaller vessels which transported people to the various islands in the bay. We saw some sea lions swimming around, waiting for some scraps of food from the market. The seafood market was interesting, but not terribly appetizing. There were plenty of shellfish, prepared in every which way- raw in bins, cooked and strung together on strings, or packaged. Unfortunately, most of the fresh ones looked dead already and there didn’t seem to be nearly enough water or ice. The fish (mostly salmon) was cheap (around 2.5 USD per kilo of filet), but didn’t look so good either. I’m not sure if any seafood with ever live up to what we ate in Japan though. We did sit down for lunch at a nearby restaurant though. Joylani ordered clams and I got a huge salmon filet. Mine was good, Joylani’s wasn’t. I told her I didn’t think it would be that great and she scolded me for not saying anything when she was deciding what to order. But I pointed out that I’d advised her against ordering barnacle, so I felt that I had helped her avoid even worse food.



            After lunch, we walked along the waterfront back towards town. Several times we passed groups of teenager, who would ask where we were from. Upon telling them as we passed, they’d ask for a dollar for talking to us. We tried to avoid teenagers the rest of the day. We checked out the surprisingly modern mall, before walking back to our hospedaje. Later, we sat near the waterfront and talked while we waited for our night bus. Puerto Montt was not exciting, or even interesting really. But it is a typical Chilean town and gave us a better feel for the country.

Life in the Hospedaje

joylani 130pxHospedajes, or residencials, are a type of boarding-house/hostel. They are generally the most economical form of lodging (besides camping), have shared bathrooms and thin walls. Guests may be foreign or domestic tourists, short-term borders (like teachers), or locals in town for business. The rooms are part of a family home, and, unlike other family-run places we have stayed, the home and rooms share the main entrance, kitchen facilities, etc. Each hospedaje we’ve stayed at in Chile has had a different feel and each has been an interesting experience as we stay in someone’s home. The first few we have stayed at have been very welcoming, and though facilities were shared, we at least had a bit of privacy and were left to ourselves when in our rooms. After this last one though, we are ready for a change. First of all, we were a bit turned off by the fact that guests must pay for the use for the kitchen (apparently standard in Coyhaique, though we have not seen this anywhere else). More than one shower a day will cost you extra, as will sitting in the living room.
The spirited abuela who is the owner, while friendly and helpful, is also loud and we can always hear her squawking away in the kitchen or hallway. On the second night we were in our room and she knocked on the door to see if another guest could use our tv. It was an odd request, however I didn’t mind giving up the tv, but having this lady knock on our door like we were relatives rather than paying guests was a bit annoying. Much later that night I had trouble falling asleep due to the two guys upstairs. Through the thin walls I could clearly hear them pop open beer cans and yap away at their jolly conversation. I contemplated going upstairs to ask them to be quite, but really didn’t want to get out of bed, and didn’t want to upset them. Finally I could take it no longer (it was one or two in the morning already) and when I heard the voices stop and footsteps coming downstairs to the bathroom, which was next door to our room, I got out of bed and waited in our doorway for the beer-pisser to emerge. He was a bit startled to see me standing there when he opened the door. I smiled and asked if he was in the room above mine. No, he shook his head. Sure you’re not, mr beer breath, I thought to myself. I innocently said, in Spanish, “Oh, sorry. You know, there are two guys up there talking so loudly I can hear every word they are saying.” He gave me a guilty look and I said goodnight as he headed upstairs. The chatting ceased. Then, it started again, but this time it was just one man on the phone. But thankfully that soon ended as well and I was finally able to fall back asleep.

Noisy people aside, Coyhaique is mildly interesting. This town is the center of activity for the region and is thus home to several banks, pharmacies, a hospital, and the central plaza even has Wi-Fi, though I don’t think many residents actually own laptops. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of “big townness” is the two big grocery stores. These supply everything from produce, canned goods, lots of beverages, bakeries, sundries, Christmas decorations, meat, cheese, and huge sacks of flour. The man I sat next to on the bus ride here told me that every few months he and his wife come to Coyhaique to restock on their food supplies. (This particular time he was coming to town for a minor operation at the hospital, which unfortunately had to be rescheduled due to the public service workers’ strike.) I saw many other people pushing around completely loaded carts who must have been doing the same. Matt and I didn’t buy nearly as much as these people, though we did enjoy the selection after the last couple of days in the middle of nowhere. Plus Coyhaique is set admist beautiful scenery, so despite a noisy guesthouse, it wasn´t too bad.




matt 120pxCoyhaique is the largest town in Chile’s Region XI and contains half of its population. That’s not saying much, since Region XI only has 100,000 inhabitants. It is surprising that so few people live in such a large area, but we haven’t seen very many people during our past few days of driving. The terrain is rugged and since arriving in Patagonia, everywhere has been pretty desolate. We’ve often driven for hours without passing a village or people. As Joylani commented after our four drive from Chile Chico to Guadal, “We drove for four hours and saw three cars, one tractor, and three horses.” With that in mind, Coyhaique’s importance is probably derived from the lack of anything (except scenery) in the surrounding region. It is a relatively scenic town, hemmed in by mountains alongside the Rio Simpson, but it’s things like the internet, the bakery, the supermarket, and ATMs that we’re enjoying here. The past week hasn’t been rough really, but its nice to arrive in a place with things. As ridiculous as it sounds, I’m almost tired to just looking at nice scenery. So, while here, we’ll stock up on pesos and catch-up on our cyber lives. With not much else to do in Coyhaique, we’ll head to Puerto Montt tomorrow.

Carretera Austral: Puerto Tranquilo to Coyhaique


matt 120pxAlthough Puerto Tranquilo was nice, it was a bit too tranquilo and one day was enough for us. At 10:15am, exactly 24 hours after we arrived, we set off for Coyhaique. After my posts on the scenery the past few days, this blog will seem like a broken record, but today’s scenery was again spectacular. The most unusual thing about the drive though was that our van hit and killed a pudu. We read that the pudu is in danger of extinction and even the guy sitting next to Joylani said he’d only seen one in the seven years he’s lived in the region (well, now he’s seen two). He was actually an interesting, if not a bit eccentric, character to talk to. He and his wife moved to Chile from Germany seven years ago. They live in a little far-flung place called Puerto Grasse, although he said its smaller than a village. He has a guesthouse, but doesn’t get many guests: just ice-climbers and scientists who study glaciers. But he gets by without any business, as he mentioned he can buy goats from his neighbors for about $40. I think he talked so much and gave us a tour of the drive because he never talks to people, living such an isolated existence. He only goes to Coyhaique every three months to stock up on essential supplies. In a way, we were like him- heading to Coyhaique to get out of the woods.

Endangered Species


joylani 130pxPudu is a species of really small deer (I have heard they are the smallest, but I am pretty sure I saw more dainty ones in a museum in Brunei).  It is really rare to actually see one, and our minibus had the unfortunate happenstance to hit one.  It was so small that until the drive stopped a ways down the road and everyone started getting out, I didn’t realize we had hit anything at all (it was a pretty bumpy ride already).  We were the only tourists on the bus, but everyone was equally in awe of seeing such a rare creature.  For a few minutes our small group solemnly stood on the side of the road watching it.  And then one of the men picked it up to take it to the side of the road.  He propped it up over a log, in a hunting pose, as another passenger snapped a photo.  After trying a few positions to place the dying animal, he settled on placing it behind the log, out of view from the road.  From the posing, to the placing, to actual realization that our driver and bus contributed to the possible extinction of this little animal, the whole event was a bit surreal for something (road kill) that is generally mundane.