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Published: November 15th 2016
My arrival to the South American continent came on a 787 direct from Auckland. Santiago was the stop and I had plans to meet my friend Alex, his wife Jo Ana, and his brother and parents. Alex and I went to Duquesne together and worked at Deloitte as well. It was good to finally meet people I knew. We were all staying at the W Santiago
, which made it convenient. After checking in and getting situated I meet the family in the lobby and we went to a great restaurant called Happening
The next day we went on a tour of a few wineries and to Valparaiso. The wineries were amazing and the bus ride to Valparaiso was nice as well. The landscape reminded me to California a bit. In Valparaiso we went to the home of Pablo Neruda
and stopped at some lookouts of the port area. For lunch we went to this old castle near the sea. The second part of the Valparaiso we saw was the northern part. You could see a difference between the northern and southern sections. The north was very modern, with a nice walkway and park along the water. Apparently, the
most expensive real estate in Chile is there.
The next day I changed hotels, as I am trying to make Platinum at Starwood hotels on stays. It was a 15-minute walk. After I checked in I decided to walk around the city that day. First I went to the top of the Gran Torre Santiago
tower. The business district of Santiago is very modern with malls and restaurants. The only thing about Santiago that I didn’t like was the air pollution. Santiago sits at the base of the Andes mountain range and traps the emissions, making it hard to breath.
That afternoon I took a walk to Santiago's cultural center. There were a lot of parks along the way. As I stopped to check my phone I heard some commotion and noticed a guy running with a bag. Right behind him was a cop in pursuit. It all happened so fast. A few minutes later I saw the cop with the man in custody. As they got closer to the squad car I noticed the cop smack the guy in the back of the head with base of his hand. Then as more police arrived they all took their shot
at the guy smacking him on the head as he was being put in the police car. Santiago’s finest!!!
After that excitement I continued to walk around before meeting the Vaz family for dinner and some drinks at the top of the W. I started to question if this W was affiliated to the Starwood brand as drinks were only about $6.00 USD apiece.
The next day I bought a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket and toured Santiago’s main spots. After some confusion on where the pickup location was, I was on and ready to go. The problem was that I couldn’t pay with credit card on the bus. So, I had to get off at the main stop and go pay in the mall. The desk was so far away that I missed the bus and had to wait an extra half hour. This effectively meant my ‘All Day’ bus pass was reduced to 4 hours.
When I arrived at one of the main sites, Cerro San Critobal
, I decided to climb the mountain – rather than take the cable car. The line was too long. The view at the top was amazing and you could see the snowcapped Andes
in the back, along with a thick layer of smog over Santiago. The hike up took about 45 minutes. Luckily, when I came down the mountain, it was the exact time the hop-on-hop-off bus arrived. I took it to the main square and saw the Cathedral and started walking down the main shopping strip.
The next day I took the metro to the bus station and caught the bus to Mendoza. The trip was beautiful, as it cuts through the Andes. We even passed a ski resort that was still open. Being above the clouds in the mountains made for some spectacular views. However, there was a huge backlog at the border crossing to Argentina and it took about 2 hours to get through. Argentina
Once through the mountain pass it was on to Mendoza
. I had really been looking forward to going to this famous wine country for some time. Mendoza is a beautiful city with trees that line the streets. I had only been to Buenos Aires before and loved it. Now it was time to explore the inner country of Argentina.
Breathing the smog in Santiago gave me a cough I
couldn’t shake. I decided to get some medicine and take it easy. I also signed up for a wine tour through Ampora Wine Tours
. I highly recommend this company if you go to Mendoza. Luckily, I was on a tour with one other guy. This was one of the most colorful people I’ve met in all my travels. This guy, Carl, was from Belgium and had been to over 120 countries. He told me that he flies 400,000 miles a year and is gone 300 nights a year. I thought I had done some serious traveling, but this guy put me to shame. Luckily he had done this tour before an specifically asked for a girl named Sabrina to be our tour guide. Sabrina was great and knew her wines very well. Each place we went to gave us about 5 tastings. The last place we went to was for a late lunch and was probably one of the best dinners I’ve had, with great views of the mountains.
Next it was off to Cordoba. I took a night bus and got to Cordoba early in the morning. I decided to book a hostel, as I felt that I wasn’t really
meeting many people on my trip. Luckily, the guys at the hostel let me check in early (6:00 am) as there was an open room – rather than making me wait till 3:00. I was able to take a nap and freshen up before heading to the Paraguayan consulate. At this point I was planning on going to Iguazu Falls and then into Paraguay by land all the way to Asunción. To do this I needed a visa. I went to the consulate in Cordoba because I had a few days to kill and thought the consulate wouldn’t be busy. Cordoba has the feel of an older town. It has a lot of small streets. When I found the consulate I asked them if they could tell me everything they needed. Basically it was 1,750 pesos and some photos. I had taken some photos for visas in Los Angeles at a mall, but apparently they were fractions of centimeters too small. The guy there gave me an address of a shop that could take the pics for me and where the closest bank was to get money. After I got the pictures I went to the bank. Apparently, it was
pay day, as there was a line around the bank to use the ATM. After waiting about 20 minutes, I got to an ATM – only to be told that I couldn’t take out the amount I needed. In fact, it wasn’t even close. I was only able to pull out about $30 USD and I needed about $160. I wasn’t about to make 5 transactions to get this visa. I ended up walking around Cordoba for half the day, but all the ATMs seemed to be only giving out a small amount. At this point I was too frustrated. I went back to the consulate to see what time they closed. The guy told me they closed about 1:00. Additionally, they would be closed the next day due to a holiday – Friday. Since I wasn’t going to stay till Monday I just decided to either get it in Buenos Aires, or, get it on arrival in Asunción.
Given the cheap ticket I was able to find I decided to fly to Salta, Argentina – rather than take another night bus. The cost wasn’t much more than the bus ticket. A few months earlier I was in Malibu
having lunch and got to talking with a lady from Argentina. I told her I planned on being there and she gave me a ton of tips. One was to see the Tren a las Nubes
(Train to the Clouds). After googling it I knew I had to check it out. This was my whole reason for going to Salta. The train only goes 3 days a week, so I had to wait till Tuesday. I ordered my ticket online and killed a few days in Salta just walking around the city. I took a free city tour one day and met some cool guys from New Zealand and South Africa who were traveling as well.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with the Train to the Clouds. I knew I had to catch a bus at 6:30 am and it would take us to the train station. What I didn’t realize was that the bus ride is about 4.5 hours to the train station. The bus stopped along the way to let us take some pictures of the amazing landscape. Once we got to the train it was about a 50-minute trip to the viaduct that stands at 13,850 ft. above
sea level. The train goes slightly faster than the train at Disneyland and everyone pretty much tries to get on the left side to take pictures of the valley as the train cuts in and out of view.
Once at the viaduct the train creeps over the bridge. All you can think of is ‘how does this bridge support a train this big?’. After stopping on the middle of the bridge, the train pulls forward a bit an everyone gets off to view the bridge and to buy souvenirs. It struck me how high were, as I was grasping for breadth while walking up a few stairs.
The ride back was another 4.5 hours. We stopped in the town where you pick up the train and got some empanadas. A family there adopted me for dinner and we talked about what I was doing in Argentina.
Next it was off to Iguazu Falls
. I flew into Iguazu on the Argentinean side and got a taxi to the Sheraton
. I ended up getting lucky as the Sheraton inside the Iguazu Falls park. My room had an amazing view of the falls from distance and you could easily hear them.
When we entered the park there was a sign warning people to look out for jaguars and pumas.
I was only staying for a day in Iguazu. I got an early morning start and walked to the train station to take the local train to the falls. Once there you walk across bridges that connect the islands until you get to the falls. The falls are magnificent. The amount of water that goes over the falls is incomprehensible. One cool thing I was to take a boat ride up to the falls. The guy that sold me the ticket briefly explained on a map that you would be able to get up close and take a picture, then another spot for pictures, then a shower, and then another shower. Wow – was he right. They pull you right up to the falls and let you get drenched. I highly recommend going to Iguazu. You probably don’t need more than a day or two if you go, though.
Later that night I flew to Buenos Aires
. I was there for work about 8 years earlier and it instantly became one of my favorite cities in the world. I just love
walking in the streets and hearing the tango music, or seeing people dancing in the street to tango. The night I got in I meet up with my friend Jose and we went to an Irish bar to watch Argentina play football. It was good catching up about our project in Mexico City.
By now my travel plans had begun to change. I spoke with my friend Chum, who asked it he could join me in South America for a month – before he headed to New Zealand. I met Chum on a group trip to Zion
National parks a few years ago and he had quit his job to travel for a few months. We agreed to meet in Lima and to go to Machu Picchu, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia. That was a lot of land to cover in 4 weeks. Instead of going to the Paraguayan consulate in Buenos Aires I decided to get a visa for Bolivia instead. Similar to my trip in Asia four years ago, I left the US with only a general direction I was heading, rather than an itinerary. This usually means that I end up staying and seeing more
than I had planned, as I meet people traveling and they give you tips and suggestions of what to see.
The timing couldn’t have been better. My power cord to my macbook air severed and I needed a new one asap (also the reason this blog is so late). Bringing a power cord from the states would be much cheaper than buying it in Buenos Aires. Although I did find one, it would have cost $100 more.
I was able to get my Bolivian visa in a day and spent the rest of my time walking around Buenos Aires and meeting friends. My good friend Tomas had me over for dinner, along with a few other guys I worked with at Deloitte. It was great catching up with old friends.
For the weekend I took the Buquebus to Montevideo
in Uruguay. I wasn’t able to get the direct boat so I ended up going to Colonia and taking the bus. This gave me the opportunity to see the countryside on the 3-hour ride. Montevideo seemed a lot more quitter than I expected. I was only there for 2 nights. However, I think one of the reasons it felt like nothing was going on was because I went to bed at 10:00, and everyone else went out at 12:00. I made sure to take a hop-on-hop-off bus to see the main sites, but that was about it. I was looking forward to getting back to BA. I think if I went there again I’d go to Ciudad Est, as it is the Miami of Uruguay.
The next day I went to the Pink House
and the Cathedral and to a tango show. I promised myself after my first time in Buenos Aires to always go to a tango show. You get a great meal and wine and the shows are always impressive. It makes you feel like you’re in the 1930s.
The next night I met my friend Flo and her boyfriend and we went to Don Julio’s
in Palermo for an amazing steak dinner. They took me to San Telmo as well. I love the old buildings and the cobblestone streets of Buenos Aires.
My last day I met my friend Leonardo for lunch before heading to the airport. As I said, Buenos Aires is one of my favorite cities in the world. I think it’s because of the contrast between modern and European architecture.
Next stop – Peru!!!
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